Battling Cancer, Coburn Cutting Senate Career Short

The Republican lawmaker announced Thursday night that he will resign at the end of this year.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
National Journal
Josh Kraushaar and Michael Catalini
Jan. 16, 2014, 6:59 p.m.

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 »
STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
CITIZENS UNITED PT. 2?
Movie Based on ‘Clinton Cash’ to Debut at Cannes
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."

Source:
×