Why Did Sen. Lott Vote “Aye” When His Heart Said “Nay”?

Yesterday  the Senate voted to reduce President George W. Bush’s proposed tax cuts by one-third and spend that money instead on education and reducing the national debt. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., who vehemently opposed the measure, ending up changing his vote from “nay” to “aye” when it became clear the proposal was going to pass. Why?

Because a senator who votes in favor of a bill retains the right to change his or her mind and later ask that the bill be called up for reconsideration. A senator who votes against a proposal does not have that privilege. Lott’s maneuver had nothing to do with any actual or potential changes of mind on his part. What’s he’s hoping is that he can persuade the Republican defectors to change theirs and stick with Bush’s full tax cut. This, of course, would require that the Republicans who voted for the measure to publicly reverse themselves. But Lott has bought himself time to address their concerns through, for example, amendments to Bush’s tax bill. Lott wanted to be the one to change his vote because as the Senate majority leader, he decides which bills come to the floor and when. If he had stuck to his principles and voted “nay” in spite of his position, he wouldn’t have personally been able to call this proposal back up for reconsideration.

Next question?

Explainer thanks Don Ritchie of the Senate Historical Office.