Sen. Thad Cochran, who delayed his trip back to Washington early this week after health complications, returned to Washington on Tuesday and attended a Senate floor session on Wednesday.
As Senate Appropriations chairman, Cochran is needed at the Capitol to chair key budget meetings as Republicans look to pass budget and tax cuts in the coming weeks.
“I am pleased to be back in Washington where I look forward to continuing work on the 2018 appropriations bills and to taking part in the debate on the budget and tax cuts,” Cochran said in a statement released by his staff. “I appreciate all the support and kind words I received while at home.”
The 79-year-old Republican senator, who has been recovering at his Oxford home from a urological infection since mid-September, said two times previously that he would return to Washington on Monday as the Senate returned from a recess. His chief of staff announced on Monday, however, that Cochran was still too ill to return, sparking speculation in Washington and Jackson about the senator’s future.
The statement from Cochran’s office on Tuesday said the senator will continue being treated in Washington, “which could affect his work schedule.”
As chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee, Cochran plays a key role in finalizing the federal government’s budget. This year’s deadline to finish the budget before a government shutdown is mid-December. Cochran is scheduled on Thursday to lead a committee meeting in which committee members will continue marking up next year’s budget.
Cochran’s vote on the Senate floor also is important as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., continues to push for tax and budget cuts, aiming to help fulfill a cornerstone of President Donald Trump’s campaign platform. Three absent or no Republican votes could stall or kill legislation.
Cochran’s health has been the subject of speculation several times since his 2014 election. In September, Trump tweeted that Cochran was in the hospital when Republicans were trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Cochran took to Twitter himself to dispute the claim, saying he was home in Oxford recovering from the urinary infection.
Adding to Republicans’ concern over Cochran’s status, the establishment wing of the party already faces stiff challenges from more conservative Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections. In that race, Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi’s junior senator, has been named as a target in 2018. Another establishment Republican, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., already has announced his retirement.
Another unexpected vacancy — in deep red Mississippi, nonetheless — could be a headache for an already reeling Republican leadership. All eyes will turn to the governor’s mansion.
If Cochran’s seat becomes vacant before Nov. 6, one calendar year before the state’s next general congressional election, Gov. Phil Bryant would have to schedule a special election within 100 days of the vacancy – a quick turnaround, likely attracting candidates with existing campaign war chests and name identification.
But if Cochran’s seat becomes vacant after Nov. 6, Bryant would appoint a temporary senator who would serve until a special election on Nov. 6, 2018, the next congressional general election. Cochran’s current term ends in 2020, so any candidate who won a special election before then would serve the remainder of that term.
Cochran has served in Congress for 44 years. He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1972. Then in 1978, he was elected to the Senate, and he has been re-elected six times. He is the third longest-serving current senator, behind Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Orrin Hatch of Utah.