Sen. Tom Coburn announced Thursday night that he will be resigning his seat at the end of the year as he battles a recurrence of cancer.
“Serving as Oklahoma’s senator has been, and continues to be, one of the great privileges and blessings of my life. But, after much prayer and consideration, I have decided that I will leave my Senate seat at the end of this Congress,” Coburn wrote in a statement.
“As a citizen, I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere. In the meantime, I look forward to finishing this year strong. I intend to continue our fight for Oklahoma, and will do everything in my power to force the Senate to re-embrace its heritage of debate, deliberation, and consensus as we face our many challenges ahead.”
Coburn was first elected to Congress in 1994 as part of a wave of House conservative firebrands swept into office as part of that year’s GOP landslide. Like many of his freshman colleagues, he pledged to serve only three terms. Unlike most of his colleagues, he kept his word.
He returned to Washington as a senator in 2004, handily defeating two prominent Republicans for the nomination and a highly touted Democratic congressman who succeeded him in the House. During the campaign, he portrayed himself as a part-time lawmaker, saying he was willing to put his conservative principles ahead of his party.
In the Senate, he was a crusader against wasteful spending. Before opposition to earmarking became a cause celebre with conservatives, he vowed not to seek earmarks early on in his Senate career. He tried to remove $5.5 billion in what he deemed wasteful projects from the 2009 stimulus bill and was an outspoken critic against the president’s health care law.
Coburn, the ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee, also assembles an annual government “Wastebook,” a compilation of government expenditures he views as wasteful. The 2013 edition identified $30 billion in program expenditures, including nearly $1 million to “explore the fascinating, often contradictory origins and influences of popular romance as told in novels, films, comics, advice books, songs, and Internet fan fiction.”
But Coburn has been an unflinching advocate of his views, even in the face of conservative backlash.
Over the summer, when Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah advocated a strategy of defunding Obamacare even if that meant shuttering the government, Coburn criticized the approach as unrealistic and unlikely to succeed. During the early stages of the so-called defund Obamacare debate, Coburn sat, legs crossed, at his Senate desk listening intently to Cruz and Lee as they argued it would be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who would shut down the government, not them.
Coburn disagreed emphatically, calling the tactic disingenuous and saying it was doomed to fail. Politically, Coburn’s remarks turned out to be prescient, and the shutdown badly bruised Republicans in Congress. Even as the behind-the-scenes Republican squabbling spilled onto center stage, Coburn kept to his small-government principles. He still voted against the continuing resolution that reopened government, arguing against running the government in such a ham-fisted manner.
Last year, he also gained attention for his willingness to negotiate with Democrats on new gun-control measures in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. But he was unable to reach an agreement with Democrats, and the legislation never passed.
This is not Coburn’s first battle with cancer. In 2011, he underwent surgery for prostate cancer and was treated for colon cancer earlier in his career. In his statement, he attributed his resignation to his commitment to serve only two terms.
“I believe it’s important to live under the laws I helped write, and even those I fought hard to block,” Coburn said.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin announced Friday that the special election to fill out the remainder of Coburn’s term will be held this year, coinciding with the regularly-scheduled election dates on the 2014 calendar. The primary will be on June 24, any necessary runoff will be on August 26, and the general election on Nov. 4. The decision, backed by Coburn, will save the state money because they won’t have to hold the special election at a separate time. Republicans are heavily favored to hold onto his seat in a deeply conservative state.
Coburn missed Thursday’s vote on the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill. His colleagues praised him for his incorruptible style and voting record.
“TomCoburn: without question one of the most intelligent, principled, and decent men in modern Senate history,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s spokesman in a tweet.
UPDATE (11:20 a.m): Story was updated to reflect the timing of the special election.
What We're Following See More »
In a stark contrast from Michelle Obama's uplifting speech, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke about the rigged system plaguing Americans before launching into a full-throated rebuke of GOP nominee Donald Trump. Trump is "a man who has never sacrificed anything for anyone," she claimed, before saying he "must never be president of the United States." She called him divisive and selfish, and said the American people won't accept his "hate-filled America." In addition to Trump, Warren went after the Republican Party as a whole. "To Republicans in Congress who said no, this November the American people are coming for you," she said.
"In this election, and every election, it's about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives," Michelle Obama said. "There is only one person who I trust with that responsibility … and that is our friend Hillary Clinton." In a personal and emotional speech, Michelle Obama spoke about the effect that angry oppositional rhetoric had on her children and how she chose to raise them. "When they go low, we go high," Obama said she told her children about dealing with bullies. Obama stayed mostly positive, but still offered a firm rebuke of Donald Trump, despite never once uttering his name. "The issues a president faces cannot be boiled down to 140 characters," she said.
Many Bernie Sanders delegates have spent much of the first day of the Democratic National Convention resisting unity, booing at mentions of Hillary Clinton and often chanting "Bernie! Bernie!" Well, one of the most outspoken Bernie Sanders supporters just told them to take a seat. "To the Bernie-or-bust people: You're being ridiculous," said comedian Sarah Silverman in a brief appearance at the Convention, minutes after saying that she would proudly support Hillary Clinton for president.
The Democratic National Committee issued a formal apology to Bernie Sanders today, after leaked emails showed staffers trying to sabotage his presidential bid. "On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email," DNC officials said in the statement. "These comments do not reflect the values of the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality during the nominating process. The DNC does not—and will not—tolerate disrespectful language exhibited toward our candidates."
The chairman of the DCCC said Debbie Wasserman Schultz won't be getting financial help from the organization this year, even as she faces a well-funded primary challenger. "Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) said the committee’s resources will be spent helping Democrats in tough races rather than those in seats that are strongholds for the party." Executive Director Kelly Ward added, “We never spend money in safe seats."