WASHINGTON, Nov 26 (Reuters) Trent Lott, the second-ranking Republican in the US Senate, will announce he is retiring this year, congressional sources said today.
Lott, a former Senate majority leader who was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1972 before entering the Senate in 1989, has scheduled press conferences in his home state of Mississippi.
His current term expires in early 2013.
The sources, who asked not to be identified, did not give a reason for Lott's early exit. But there had been speculation two years ago that the four-term senator was considering retiring so that he could make more money in the private sector, especially after his Mississippi home was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Democrats, who control the Senate with a narrow 51-vote margin, are hoping to expand their majority in elections set for November 2008.
Lott, the Republican ''whip'' in the Senate, is a party leader responsible for legislative strategy and ensuring that minority Republicans mostly stick together on key votes.
A 66-year-old former college cheerleader, Lott would be the fifth Senate Republican to announce his retirement. No Senate Democrats have yet said they would retire after next year.
When Lott captured the Republican whip job in the current Congress, it was seen as a political comeback for the senator who was forced in 2002 to resign from leadership.
Lott's problems stemmed from remarks he made that year at a 100th birthday celebration for then-Sen Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, a segregationist who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1948.
Lott was quoted saying that Mississippians were proud to have voted for Thurmond for president and that ''if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years.'' REUTERS JT BD2130