Lott's Departure Precedes Ethics Restrictions

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., is calling it quits only one year into his six-ear term, giving Republican leaders one more headache as they head into an already tough 2008 election cycle.

Lott announced in Pascagoula Monday that he would resign from the Senate before the end of the year, becoming the latest in a string of prominent Republican lawmakers to leave Congress.

In the Senate, GOP veterans John Warner of Virginia, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Wayne Allard of Colorado have all, for various reasons, already decided not to seek re-election.

Those departures are more troublesome than Lott's for Republicans because Warner, Hagel, Domenici and Allard are all from battleground states.

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Lott and Sen. Larry Craig, R-Ida., who opted not to resign after an embarrassing scandal but will not run for re-election next year, are both from states considered reliably Republican.

Time for Lobbying Change?

A source close to Lott said the next phase of Lott's life "involves a whole lot of money."

"As you remember," the source told ABC News, "it was a tough decision for him to run for re-election. He decided to run because felt he had to help his state deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Now that the state is in recovery and Haley Barbour has been re-elected governor, he feels he can move on to the next phase of his life."

Lott's resignation before the end of the year will allow the senator to leave Congress before new ethics rules, enacted into law this fall, would force him to sit out for two years.

As the ranking Republican on the Senate Rules Committee, Lott had a hand in vetting the new ethics rules, but he insists those rules changes had nothing to do with his decision to leave Congress.

"It didn't have a big role in that decision," Lott said. "There are limits on [when a Senator can lobby] already."

Lott said he has not entered into official negotiations with any lobbying firm and suggested he may join a law firm instead. He also said he would think about teaching and has already offered his services as the head coach at his alma mater, Ole Miss, an offer, Lott joked, that was immediately rejected.

Lott's Mississippi colleague, Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, announced last week that he would be seeking re-election in 2008. A special election to fill the remainder of Lott's term will be held in 2008 as well. Republican Gov. Haley Barbour will appoint a Republican in the meantime.

Big Losses in the House

It is a similarly bleak story for Republicans in the House of Representatives, where the most recent big name Republican to bow out is Dennis Hastert of Illinois.

Just two years ago, Hastert was second in line for the presidency but resigned his post as House Speaker to Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., when Democrats captured control of the body in 2006.

Another ranking Republican to announce he won't seek re-election to Congress is Mississippi Republican Chip Pickering, who had been the odds-on favorite in the very long queue to succeed Lott.

It is unclear if Lott's announcement today will change his mind.

For Democrats, former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, who made a national name for himself suing tobacco companies, would be the go-to guy. Moore's intentions in the aftermath of Lott's unexpected announcement are also unclear at this point.

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