U.S. Senator Trent Lott, who was scheduled to become Majority Leader of the new Republican-led Senate next month, is stepping down from the party post. Mr. Lott, who has been embroiled in a controversy over racially-divisive remarks, says he will remain in the Senate.
Bowing to pressure from fellow Republicans, Mr. Lott announced his resignation as party leader in a written statement, saying he is doing so in the interest of pursuing the best possible agenda for the future of the country.
Mr. Lott has been under fire for comments made earlier this month at a ceremony marking the 100th birthday for retiring Senator Strom Thurmond. Mr. Lott said the nation would have been better off if it had elected then-segregationist presidential candidate Thurmond in 1948.
The comments sparked a political firestorm that included a rare rebuke of a Republican leader from President Bush.
Senate Republicans, who had been concerned the controversy would distract from their agenda, immediately praised his decision.
Senator George Allen of Virginia said, "My concern that if we did not make a change in leadership and find someone as leader who accurately reflects our beliefs and principles and ideas, that we would be mired in inaction rather than moving forward as we need to do in January."
In a written statement, President Bush said he respects Mr. Lott's decision, and is pleased that he will continue to serve the country in the Senate.
Mr. Lott's resignation is effective January 6, when Republican senators will meet to decide his successor. Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, a close ally of President Bush, is the first Republican to announce his interest in the post. His candidacy has been endorsed by a number of Senators, including Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico.
"I believe it is clear, obvious and therefore we should select Bill Frist by acclamation," said Mr. Domenici.
Incoming House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California called Mr. Lott's resignation as Senate Republican leader "an important step", but she added that Republicans need to do more to address the issue of race.