Bloomberg / Mississippi Republican Senator Thad Cochran said Monday that he’ll resign from Congress on April 1 for health reasons. The retirement will allow Republican Governor Phil Bryant to name a temporary replacement ahead of a special election in November.
Cochran, 80, is chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, which drafts bills allocating about one-third of all federal spending each year. He oversees the defense subcommittee which controls the Pentagon’s budget.
“I regret my health has become an ongoing challenge," Cochran said in a statement. "I’ve done my best to make decisions in the best interests of our nation, and my beloved state."
Cochran’s term runs through 2020, and the special election means that both of Mississippi’s Senate seats will be on the ballot this November at a time when Republicans are trying to hold on to their 51-49 majority. The state’s GOP Senator Roger Wicker will be seeking re-election in November.
Cochran made his announcement days after conservative Chris McDaniel announced he is running against Wicker in the GOP primary and the date to file for the vote has passed. The announcement makes it unlikely McDaniel would now run for Cochran’s seat instead.
"I am currently focused on my campaign against Roger Wicker, but all options remain on the table," McDaniel said in a statement.
Cochran is the 10th-longest serving senator of all time, and the third-longest among incumbents, behind Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, a Democrat whose current term expires in 2023, and Utah’s Orrin Hatch, a Republican who’s retiring after 2018.
He’s widely expected to be succeeded as Appropriations chairman by GOP Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, who now leads the Rules Committee.
"I would be interested at the proper time," Shelby told reporters.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a statement, "Thad’s well-earned reputation as a ‘quiet persuader’ has endeared him to all his colleagues." He leaves "an outstanding legacy of standing up for all of his constituents," the majority leader said.
Spending Bill Cochran is staying on until the $1.2 trillion spending bill needed to keep the government open after March 23 is completed, thereby helping to ensure his spending priorities are reflected in the bill.
Before the Senate did away with spending earmarks, Cochran routinely ranked among Congress’s more prolific lawmakers in designating spending for specific projects, and he argued that the projects were essential in his poor state. More recently, he has helped steer military shipbuilding projects to the Huntington Ingalls Industries ’ shipbuilding operation in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
A former chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Cochran helped author the 2014 Farm Bill, where he championed the needs of his state’s rice and cotton farmers. He has long fought to protect its catfish producers as well.
In recent years, Cochran has relied heavily on staff to assist him as his health declined, and the senator missed several weeks of work in 2017.
Cochran served as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, the number three leadership position, from 1991 to 1997. He sought to become majority leader in 1996 after Bob Dole resigned to concentrate on his presidential campaign, though Cochran was decisively defeated, 44-8, by his Mississippi Republican colleague Trent Lott.
Cochran was first elected to the House in 1972 at age 34 and was elected to the Senate in 1978.
— With assistance by Gregory Giroux, Margaret Talev, and Sahil Kapur
GLOBALES: GOP Senator Cochran to Retire April 1, Setting Up November Vote
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