In surprise, Sen. Lott announces intent to leave by year's end

Decision likely to set off scramble for Senate GOP leadership positions.

Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., announced Monday he will resign by the end of the year, creating a scramble among Senate Republicans for suddenly available leadership positions and ending a prominent congressional career. Speaking at a news conference in his hometown of Pascagoula, Miss., Lott said he and his wife, Tricia, had decided he had served long enough. Lott has said he did not intend to seek re-election last year but changed his mind after the Gulf Coast was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"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. "There are no problems. I feel fine. I may look my 66 years, but I honestly feel good."

Lott added that he does not "have anything definitely lined up at this time, and I just wanted to make that clear." He added he is not negotiating with anyone about employment.

"I'm not going to work tomorrow for somebody else," he said. Lott suggested he might want to teach, and jokingly said he had submitted his name to be the next head football coach at his beloved University of Mississippi.

"There are some possibilities out there that I would like to be able to consider. I'm going to look at all of it," he said. "I might even want to come back and affiliate with a law firm. But I don't know and I don't have any commitments lined up."

Lott's decision should set off a domino effect as Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl of Arizona will run for whip, one of his aides confirmed. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who lost by one vote in his race against Lott for minority whip last year, is considering a run, according to his spokesman. Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Jim DeMint of South Carolina are interested in seeking leadership positions, according to a source, although DeMint might be more likely to battle with Republican Policy Committee Chairwoman Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas to succeed Kyl as Conference chairman.

A source close to Hutchison confirmed she has begun a campaign for that spot. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., is considering running for the Conference or Policy Committee chairmanships, a source said, while the office of Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he would seek the Policy Committee chairmanship if Hutchison runs for Conference chair.

Lott said he called President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour Sunday to inform them of his decision. Lott said Bush "was very kind in his remarks" despite the friction between the two when Lott was forced out as majority leader.

"Sen. Lott has been an effective and tireless leader in Congress for many years," said White House Deputy Press Secretary Scott Stanzel. "His ability to advance important legislation and the principles of our party will be sorely missed in Washington."

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a former whip, said, "Trent is the best whip I've ever worked with, and I'm pretty familiar with the requirements of the job."