Longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told The Associated Press on Monday that he will resign April 1 because of health problems.
Cochran, who turned 80 in December, stayed home for a month last fall with urinary tract infections, returning to Washington in October to give Republicans the majority they needed to pass a budget plan.
“I regret my health has become an ongoing challenge,” Cochran said in a statement. “I intend to fulfill my responsibilities and commitments to the people of Mississippi and the Senate, through the completion of the 2018 appropriations cycle, after which I will formally retire from the U.S. Senate.”
He was first elected to the Senate in 1978 after serving six years in the House.
“It has been a great honor to serve the people of Mississippi and our country. I’ve done my best to make decisions in the best interests of our nation, and my beloved state,” Cochran said. “My top concern has always been my constituents in Mississippi. My hope is by making this announcement now, a smooth transition can be ensured so their voice will continue to be heard in Washington, D.C. My efforts, and those of my staff, to assist them will continue and transfer to my successor.”
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant will appoint a temporary replacement. Then a special election will be held to fill the rest of the term, through January 2021.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky praised Cochran.
“Thad knows there’s a big difference between making a fuss and making a difference. And the people of Mississippi — and our whole nation— have benefited from his steady determination to do the latter,” McConnell said in a statement.
Cochran’s “calm and collegial approach to even the most intense debates have made his broad experience and deep expertise that much more valuable to his colleagues, his constituents, and his country,” McConnell said.
Cochran led the Appropriations Committee in 2005-06, channeling money to Mississippi and other Gulf Coast states for Hurricane Katrina recovery after the 2005 storm, and regained the committee chairmanship in January 2015, when the GOP again took control of the Senate.
Mild-mannered and known for working across party lines, Cochran easily won most of his re-election campaigns. However, he struggled before winning a 2014 Republican primary over tea party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who received financial support from libertarian-leaning groups that criticized Cochran as a big spender.
That race grabbed national attention after a McDaniel supporter entered a nursing home without permission and photographed Cochran’s wife, Rose, who was bedridden with dementia. Images of her appeared briefly online. McDaniel said he had no connection to the incident. Rose Cochran died in December 2014.
McDaniel — who never conceded his loss to Cochran — announced last week that he will run this year against Mississippi’s other Republican senator, Roger Wicker. But moments after making that announcement at a rally in his hometown of Ellisville, McDaniel said he could drop out of the Wicker race and run in the special election if Cochran resigns.
From Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves
“Senator Cochran’s service to our nation has made the lives of Mississippians better, and his support of our military has made America safer,” Reeves said. “He fought relentlessly for Mississippi from helping our farmers get their crops to market to fighting for our citizens after Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the state. He earned and maintained the respect of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle even though he never shied away from a battle to protect his beloved state. Elee and I wish Senator Cochran and his family well as they enter this new chapter.”
From U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
“Today, the Senate learned that one of our longest-serving colleagues, Senator Thad Cochran, will retire on April 1st to focus on his health and enjoy more time with his family. Thad’s well-earned reputation as a ‘quiet persuader’ has endeared him to all his colleagues. Whatever the issue at hand, his allies and adversaries have always admired his unfailingly even keel, sober expertise, and respectful demeanor.
“Thad knows there’s a big difference between making a fuss and making a difference. And the people of Mississippi—and our whole nation—have benefitted from his steady determination to do the latter. Senator Cochran’s talents made him chairman of the Appropriations Committee. At this key post, his calm and collegial approach to even the most intense debates have made his broad experience and deep expertise that much more valuable to his colleagues, his constituents, and his country.
“His friends here in the Senate are sad to see him leave us. But the Senator leaves behind an outstanding legacy of standing up for all of his constituents – from farmers to historically black colleges and universities to Gulf Coast communities that were reeling after Hurricane Katrina. Senator Cochran departs with our congratulations and gratitude for so many years of honorable and distinguished service, from his time as a Navy officer to nearly four decades in the Senate, and our warmest wishes for his retirement.”
From Gov. Phil Bryant
“Today, one of Mississippi’s greatest public servants shared with me his plans to retire. Sen. Thad Cochran’s service ushered in an era of unprecedented influence for our state and will benefit generations to come. “He was a leader in Washington and a powerful advocate for every Mississippian. I will always be grateful to Sen. Cochran for his friendship and support during my time of service. Deborah and I wish him and Kay the very best as they begin this new chapter.
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