Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, a Republican who has held the seat for forty years and currently serves as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, will resign on April 1 due to poor health.
“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.”
In October, Politico reported that Cochran was “frail and disoriented” during an interview. He missed several votes in the fall, but made it back to Washington in order to vote to pass the tax bill last December.
After Cochran’s resignation goes into effect, Governor Phil Bryant has ten days to appoint an interim replacement. An election to serve out the rest of Cochran’s term (which ends in 2020) will be on the ballot along with other races in November, which already includes an election for Mississippi’s other Senate seat.
Cochran has been a right-wing conservative over the course of his four decades in the Senate. He was one of twenty senators who didn’t join a resolution in 2005 condemning the Senate for never passing anti-lynching legislation, and Cochran has been a staunch defender of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, whose desk he sits at in the Senate. “That’s Jefferson Davis’s desk over there where I’m sitting,” Cochran said in 2015, in response to a push to remove Davis’ statue from the Capitol. “I’m very proud to have that.”
But in 2014, he needed the help of African-American voters to fight off a challenge from Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel. And now, McDaniel hasn’t ruled out making a run to be his potential successor.
During the campaign, it was discovered that McDaniel had attended at least one conference for the white supremacist Sons of Confederate Veterans, and that he had made a plethora of racist and sexist statements while hosting a radio show in the mid-2000s. “If they pass [slavery] reparations, and my taxes are going up, I ain’t paying taxes,” McDaniel said during one show.
McDaniel had previously announced a primary challenge to Mississippi’s other senator, Roger Wicker, but Cochran’s retirement will undoubtedly throw a wrench into the calculus. In December, the Washington Post reported that McDaniel was lobbying for Bryant to name him to the seat should it open up, but Bryant wasn’t interested in doing so. In fact, both President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have urged Bryant to appoint himself.
McDaniel, however, hasn’t ruled out running for the Cochran seat. “Given Senator Cochran’s retirement, I will continue to monitor developments regarding his replacement and the Special Election that will follow,” McDaniel said in a statement to The Daily Beast.