GOP Sen. Thad Cochran to step down April 1

By Ted Barrett and Daniella Diaz, CNN
Updated 5:08 PM ET, Mon March 5, 2018

(CNN)Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, who chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee, will leave his seat effective April 1, citing his health issues that have kept him away from the Senate in recent months.

"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."

The 80-year-old's health declined in the last few years and he is currently serving his seventh term in the Senate. He was absent from his duties in the Senate for a few weeks last fall with a urinary tract infection.

Longtime Senate aides, who observed Cochran regularly, noted privately that the senator seemed to have slowed down mentally in recent years but they acknowledge it's difficult to tell to what degree.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant will appoint a replacement with a special election for his seat scheduled in November. Republican Roger Wicker, the junior senator from Mississippi, also has his election in November.

Cochran is the 10th longest-serving senator in history. In 1972, Cochran was elected into Congress and served until 1978, when he was elected into the Senate. He was the first Republican in more than 100 years to win a statewide election in Mississippi.

"I've done my best to make decisions in the best interests of our nation, and my beloved state," Cochran said in his statement Monday. "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."