Lott announces Senate exit


WASHINGTON -- Sen. Trent Lott's decision to retire after 35 years in Congress will silence one of the loudest voices on the Commerce Committee, where the Mississippi Republican made a name reaching across the aisle.

On Monday, the second-highest-ranking Republican in the Senate announced that he will step aside before January, saying it was time to move on.

"It's time for us to do something else," Lott said, speaking for himself and his wife, Tricia, at a news conference.

Lott, 66, described his 16 years in the House and 19 in the Senate "a wild ride -- and one that I'm proud of."

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, will name someone to temporarily replace Lott.

His colleagues elected Lott as the Senate's Republican whip last year, a redemption 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. Lott had saluted the South Carolina senator with comments later interpreted as support for Southern segregationist policies.

Bush did not stand behind Lott after his remarks about Thurmond, increasing pressure on the lawmaker to step down from the No. 1 Senate job.

While Lott has a buttoned-down appearance, he has been known as a bit of a maverick, often siding with key Democrats on policy issues.

Most notably, Lott teamed with Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., to block changes to regulations to make it easier for media companies to combine. Lott and Dorgan have pressured FCC chairman Kevin Martin to slow down his push make it easier to own a newspaper and a TV station in the same market.

Meanwhile, the FCC was scheduled to meet Tuesday to take up a string of items, most aimed at the cable industry.

Included in the proposals that the commission could take up is a finding that cable penetration exceeds 70% of households, triggering a legal provision enacted in 1984 that gives the FCC expanded regulatory powers over cable operators that could damage cable programrs.

That provision has drawn the ire of at least one other Republican commissioner and some lawmakers.

Four GOP senators and House Republican leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, urged Martin to hold off on the decision.

In addition, Democratic FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein reportedly is siding with Republican commissioner Robert McDowell, who said he couldn't support the panel's competition report if the finding was included.

If Martin can't find the votes he could pull the item from the agenda, or modify it. Martin has included a number of cable-related items including rules setting a maximum fee of 10 cents per month per subscriber for leased-access programming and a rule that effectively could force Comcast and Time Warner to carry the Hallmark Channel and the NFL Network.