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Katrina Weighs on Lott’s Decision-Making

Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of the Gulf Coast region is factoring into Sen. Trent Lott’s (R-Miss.) decision about whether to seek a fourth term, as he weighs his own family’s financial situation with the dire needs of many of his constituents and neighbors.

Lott, whose Pascagoula home was destroyed in the hurricane, said in an interview Wednesday that this disaster is “going to make the whole thing difficult because I want to help, but I have got to go through the whole family situation.”

“On a personal basis, it is probably time for me to go,” Lott said. “On a constituent and professional basis, maybe I shouldn’t. I don’t know.”

Unlike many of his colleagues, Lott is not independently wealthy, having spent almost his entire working career in public service. He described his Pascagoula home as “my little nest egg,” which is now “gone.”

“I am going to wind up taking a pretty good financial hit from this, anyway you cut it,” Lott said. “That was frankly, most of my life savings. It was the first thing I ever had in my life that was paid off.”

The Mississippi Republican’s most recent financial disclosure revealed he had modest investments and savings.

Ever since Lott was forced to step down from his post as Republican Leader in December 2002, there has been widespread speculation he would retire at the end of 2006 to cash in on his 30-plus years of Congressional experience and contacts. Lott has done little to suppress this rumor by refusing to directly state he will seek re-election.

Now, Lott said it will be at least three months before he makes a decision on his political future, a time frame the Mississippi Republican said is needed to analyze the rebuilding effort in his and neighboring states that were hit by Katrina. He won re-election with 66 percent of the vote in 2000 and is heavily favored to win another term, should he run next year.

While Lott acknowledged there is a temptation to leave for the private sector, the Senator added, “I have never made a decision on my life based on personal finances.”

“The one thing is I want to help those people any way I can,” Lott said. “I hope I can be effective in helping in a lot of different ways. That is the difficult part. Can somebody come in, a new guy, pick up the mantle and do that much?”

It appears the chance to take a leading role in helping rebuild the Gulf States ravaged by the hurricane is very appealing to Lott, who has spent the past two-and-half years trying to repair his public image. And there is talk that Lott might make a bid for a Republican leadership position in the 110th Congress, an idea he will not dismiss outright.

The Mississippian was pressured to step down as Republican leader after he told attendees at Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party the country would have been better off if voters had chosen the South Carolinian when he ran for president in 1948. Thurmond’s Dixiecrat campaign was based on segregation and states rights.

Even though Lott insisted his words were misinterpreted, he was forced to step down from his post on the eve of his party regaining the majority. Since then, Lott has worked hard to remain an influential figure on Capitol Hill and frequently works with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and President Bush’s advisers on legislative matters.

Lott’s willingness to help Frist is interesting given that he accused the Majority Leader of playing a major role in helping to force him out of his job. The Mississippi Republican made this charge in his memoir, “Herding Cats, A Life in Politics,” which was released during the August Congressional recess.

Lott also fingers several other current and former colleagues, as well as members of Bush’s administration, for actively seeking his ouster or failing to support him at his most vulnerable moment.

Still, Lott said he has not encountered any hostility from his colleagues about the book since he returned to Capitol Hill and suggested it has been overtaken by the hurricane relief efforts.

“I have to say that everybody has been nothing but considerate and helpful and responsive to every request I have made,” Lott said. That includes Frist, who “has never let on” to being unhappy about the harsh criticism leveled at him, Lott said.

The Mississippi Republican also criticizes Virginia Sens. George Allen (R) and John Warner (R) in the memoir for abandoning him and publicly supporting Frist for Republican Leader in 2002.

“Obviously, Warner and Allen probably didn’t appreciate it, but I mean, frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” Lott said.

The Mississippi Republican said he did not explicitly accuse Bush in the book of being a major contributor to his downfall because “I never could prove what or who was doing things to me from the White House,” he said. “I did have my suspicions, but I did think the president and I had a personal friendly relationship. I still consider him a friend today.”

Allen, in an interview Wednesday, said he does not regret calling Lott in December 2002 to tell him he should step down from his position.

“It was not an easy conversation, because Trent was very helpful to me as a rookie here,” Allen said. “And that was my judgment and I felt the proper thing to do is not mislead someone but tell him what I thought.”

For his part, Lott said he has no remorse for singling out people in the book he thought abandoned him.

“I told the truth as I saw it and moved on,” he said.

All of Lott’s book appearances have been canceled since the hurricane, but he said at some point in the future he might resume the tour.

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