By JACK ELLIOTT
Associated Press Writer
JACKSON — Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Senate's No. 2 Republican, plans to resign his seat before the end of the year, congressional and White House officials said Monday.
Lott, 66, scheduled two news conferences in his home state later in the day to reveal his plans. According to congressional and White House officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement, Lott intends to resign effective the end of the year.
No reason for Lott's resignation was given, but according to a congressional official, there is nothing amiss with Lott's health. The senator has “other opportunities” he plans to pursue, the official said, without elaborating.
Lott's colleagues elected him as the Senate's Republican whip last year, a redemption for the Mississippian after his ouster five years ago as the party's Senate leader over remarks he made at retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party in 2002. Lott had saluted the South Carolina senator with comments later interpreted as support for southern segregationist policies.
After the 2006 elections, when Democrats recaptured the Senate, Lott was put in charge of lining up and counting votes as whip, the No. 2 job behind minority leader Mitch McConnell.
Lott becomes the sixth Senate Republican this year to announce retirement.
Lott had apologized after the 2002 remarks, but his Senate colleagues undermined him and White House officials demanded his ouster. Lott later wrote in a book that President Bush hurt his feelings by disavowing the comments in a tone that was “devastating … booming and nasty.”
Another event during Lott's exile changed his relationship with the White House: Hurricane Katrina. The massive storm devastated Lott's home state, not to mention his oceanside home in Pascagoula. He found his refrigerator a few blocks away in a neighbor's yard. For him, the administration's bungled response was personal. He considered retiring.
His 2006 comeback was an apt outlet for the Mississippian's talents. He was the rare majority leader who seemed to relish the vote-wrangling duties that some of his predecessors loathed. Lott appropriated former majority leader Howard Baker's derisive description of the job for the title of his tell-all memoir last year: “Herding Cats: A Life in Politics.”
The smooth-spoken Lott found himself in hot water in December 2002 after going too far in his praise of GOP Sen. Strom Thurmond at the South Carolinian's 100th birthday party. Lott said Mississipppi voters were proud to have supported Thurmond when he ran for president on a segregationist platform in 1948, and added: “If the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years either.”
A few days later, Lott issued a statement saying he had made “a poor choice of words” that “conveyed to some the impression that I embraced the discarded policies of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.”
But the damage was done. President Bush distanced himself from Lott's remarks, telling an audience the comments “do not reflect the spirit of our country.”
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.