(Editor's note: Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) apologized Monday night for remarks heard 'round the nation: "A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embraced the discarded policies of the past," the Senate Republican Leader said in a statement. "Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.")
(CNSNews.com) - Two African American Republicans Monday joined several prominent Democrats in condemning Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) for his comments last week at the birthday party for retiring Senator Strom Thurmond.
Lott said that if Thurmond's 1948 presidential run had been successful, America would not have had "all these problems ..." Thurmond, running in 1948 as a Southern "Dixiecrat," advocated racial segregation at the time.
Nationally syndicated conservative columnist Armstrong Williams, an African American who served on Senator Thurmond's staff as an intern, told CNSNews.com that Senator Lott's comments "sent chills down my spine."
"I thought it was very inappropriate. The room gasped when he said it ... I don't see how anyone else can defend it. I am not going to defend it," said Williams, who attended the party marking Thurmond's 100th birthday.
Williams called Thurmond a "dear friend" and noted that the retiring senator [Thurmond] had "denounced his past" as a segregationist. "Those views are not representative of Strom Thurmond," he said.
Lott made the controversial remarks Thursday, Dec. 5 at the Dirksen Senate Office Building. "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."
Former Vice President Al Gore has called for the Senate to censure Lott, while activists Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have called for Lott's resignation.
Williams, normally a GOP ally, does not think GOP leaders should make excuses for Lott's statement.
"Republicans cannot run around trying to defend Trent Lott. He should apologize and explain what he tried to say instead of some two-sentence terse statement that he sent out," Williams added.
Lott's office issued a statement Sunday that read: "This was a lighthearted celebration of the 100th birthday of legendary Sen. Strom Thurmond. My comments were not an endorsement of his positions of over 50 years ago, but of the man and his life."
A request for further comment was turned down by Lott's office on Monday.
Williams is not impressed at Lott's handling of the situation.
"It's a joke! Come on man. Please, it's a joke and you know it only makes it worse, " Williams explained.
Harold Doley, a black Republican who has served the last five Republican presidents as a political appointee or advisory committee member, believes Lott's comments should prompt a change in Senate leadership.
"It shows he should not be the leader of the Republican Senate," Doley said in an interview with CNSNews.com.
"At a time when Republicans are trying to build the party to include the African American community, [Lott], in effect, takes an overtly segregationist position," Doley said.
[Lott] is giving the Democratic leadership exactly what they want in terms of the black vote. The GOP cannot continue to take constituencies out of play, we have to grow the party," he added.
"I am meeting with other African American Republicans who are trying to build the party ... we are going to ask Republican senators to vote for an alternative to [Lott]," Doley said.
Conservative African American activist Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, founder and president of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND), does not think the GOP should punish Lott.
"We have to realize that the liberal media, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and those people, they are desperate right now to regain power, and any little thing they can jump on to make the Republicans look like racists, they are going to use that to further their agenda," Peterson said.
Peterson said he believes Lott did not intend to be offensive. "There was just a sense of joy about [the event], he did not mean to be negative to black Americans or the civil rights movement at large," he explained.
Peterson believes the Democratic Party has its own racial problems.
"I suggest they first go after Senator [Robert] Byrd (D-W.Va.) who was a member of the KKK. He is in their party and then [the Democrats should] come after Lott." Peterson said.
"I think this is hypocrisy and a shameless act," he added.
But the comments of others should not serve as a defense for Lott, according to Armstrong Williams.
"Anybody in this day and time who makes that kind of statement should be condemned. I condemned Byrd and I condemn Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton for their racist statements and I am condemning Trent Lott."
The Senate GOP leader needs to change his views on race, Williams said.
"He's has some ignorance that he has to overcome. He has his own issues when it comes to this issue of race," Williams said of Lott.
But Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, (D-S.D.), defended Lott against racism charges on Monday.
"There are a lot of times when he and I go to the mike and would like to say things we meant to say differently, and I'm sure this is one of those cases for him as well," Daschle said.
E-mail a news tip to Marc Morano.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.