Lott Will Quit Senate Next Month

Resignation Is Seen As a Blow to the GOP

By Paul Kane
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) surprised the Capitol yesterday by announcing that he will resign next month, taking the unusual path of abandoning the chamber and his leadership post midterm to pursue a private-sector career.

Lott, who as minority whip is second in the chamber's Republican hierarchy, cited the passage of legislation to aid the recovery of Mississippi's Gulf Coast from the damage of Hurricane Katrina as the reason for his decision, which he said he began contemplating in August but kept closely guarded.

"We've had this great experience for these 35 years, but we do think that there is time left for us to maybe do something else," Lott said of the decision he made with his wife, Tricia. Lott, who was elected to the House in 1972 and moved to the Senate in 1988, said there are "no problems" with his health.

His sudden retirement is another blow to Republicans, who already have absorbed announcements by a handful of veteran incumbents that they will retire next year rather than seek reelection. That has presented Democrats with several opportunities to expand their current 51 to 49 majority next fall.

While Democrats face an uphill battle to capture Lott's seat, his departure is a symbolically deep wound to Republicans. Lott has served as a member of either the House or Senate Republican leadership for 19 of the past 27 years, and he is leaving midterm after winning his fourth six-year term last November.

"If I were 20 years younger, I'd be mounting my horse, saying, 'Let's get this majority back,' " Lott, 66, said at a news conference in his home town of Pascagoula, Miss.

In the post-World War II era, only two senators have resigned midterm to pursue life in the private sector, according to the Senate Historical Office. David L. Boren (D-Okla.) became a university president in 1994, and Albert B. "Happy" Chandler (D-Ky.) left the Senate to become commissioner of Major League Baseball in 1945.

Others who left midterm moved to another public post or were driven from office by scandal.

Lott's departure is equally stunning because he recently completed a political rehabilitation among colleagues after allegations of racial insensitivity drove him from the leadership. Poised to become majority leader, Lott praised Sen. Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist presidential campaign at a 100th birthday party and retirement celebration for Thurmond (R-S.C.) in December 2002, saying the nation would not have "all these problems" if he had been elected. With the blessing of the Bush White House, Republicans banished Lott from the leadership.

Rather than resign, Lott spent four years as a back-bench Republican, burnishing his image as a behind-the-scenes dealmaker. By the end of 2005 -- a year in which his mother died and his Pascagoula home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina -- he planned to announce his retirement rather than seek reelection, he said.

But Lott cited the need to help his state recover from Katrina, cruised to a reelection victory and threw himself last fall into a hotly contested bid for minority whip, winning by one vote.

That left the impression among many colleagues that he would remain in the chamber, and part of its leadership, for years to come. But Lott's bipartisan skills have not been in high demand this past year, as the legislative agenda has nearly ground to a halt in a partisan standoff on issues including the Iraq war and immigration.

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