A difficult season for the Senate Republican Caucus just got tougher with the retirement of Trent Lott, the Minority Whip -- at least in the short term. The four-term Senator from Mississippi will leave the Senate at the end of the year, and the Republicans will have to scramble to ensure that they keep the seat in GOP hands:
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 Pascagoula and Jackson later in the day to reveal his plans. According to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement, Lott intends to resign effective at 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 was re-elected to a fourth Senate term in 2006.
Lott has had a rocky ride of late in the Senate. He had to resign as Majority Leader in 2002 after praising Strom Thurmond and asserting that Thurmond's Dixiecrat segregationist platform could have benefited the US had he been elected President in 1948. More recently, he lashed out at porkbusters who demanded answers to his prodigious earmarking. His ascent to party leadership last year created a firestorm of controversy about the message it sent regarding the direction of the Republican Party on ethics and spending issues.
History may treat Lott more kindly than contemporaneous accounts. He served most of four terms as an effective party leader. After his departure from the Majority Leader seat, many felt that Bill Frist could not match Lott's infighting ability, which was sorely missed when judicial nominations bogged down in 2005.
Still, Lott will most likely be remembered for his arrogance and his inability to adapt to the paradigms of open government in the Internet/blogosphere era. He staunchly defended an old tradition of trading power and influence at a time when America finally started to see the costs inherent in those mechanisms. Lott could have led the Republicans to adapt to the new reality and become the vanguard of ethics reform and smaller government, but instead remained entrenched in the trappings of a vanishing era. When challenged, he lashed out instead of listened, and now he walks away with little credibility left.
Governor Haley Barbour will replace Lott, probably with Rep. Chip Pickering, who recently announced his retirement from the House. A special election will be held in November to fill the rest of Lott's term, which runs to 2012. Pickering, a Lott protege, seems the likeliest choice, but unfortunately, Pickering doesn't represent an improvement. The Club for Growth RePork Card shows Pickering's support for anti-pork measures at an embarrassing 2%, putting him at almost the bottom of Republican representatives for 2007.
The names may change, but the policies won't. That may be Lott's legacy.
UPDATE: Danny Glover at Beltway Blogroll has a great roundup of reaction.