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
Michael Catalin Josh Kraushaar
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 »
DOWN ONLY TWO POINTS IN FOUR-WAY RACE
Trump Cuts Deficit in New Morning Consult Poll
52 minutes ago
THE LATEST

Hillary Clinton now leads Donald Trump by a mere two points in a four-way race, according to the latest Morning Consult weekly poll. Clinton leads 39%-37%, with Gary Johnson at 8% and Jill Stein at 3%. In a two-way race, Clinton leads by three, 43%-40%.

Source:
GIULIANI, INGRAHAM, AILES IN THE ROOM
Trump’s Debate Prep Underway
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump is hosting Rudy Giuliani, Laura Ingraham, and Roger Ailes "at his New Jersey golf course for Sunday chats" about debating strategy. "Over bacon cheeseburgers, hot dogs and glasses of Coca-Cola, they test out zingers and chew over ways to refine the Republican nominee’s pitch. Trump’s aides have put together briefing books, not that the candidate is devoting much time to reading them." Ingraham may be cast as the Hillary Clinton stand-in, although Trump's confidence is such that he may not hold any such dress rehearsals. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports that one such confab was held yesterday.

Source:
STANDS BY HIS ASSESSMENT
Doctor: I Wrote Trump’s Note in Five Minutes
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump's personal physician, Harold Bornstein, said he wrote a letter declaring Trump would be the healthiest president in history in just five minutes while a limo sent by the candidate waited outside his Manhattan office." However, he said "he stands by his glowing assessment of the 70-year-old's physical state."

Source:
PROCEDURES NOT FOLLOWED
Trump Not on Ballot in Minnesota
3 days ago
THE LATEST
MOB RULE?
Trump on Immigration: ‘I Don’t Know, You Tell Me’
4 days ago
THE LATEST

Perhaps Donald Trump can take a plebiscite to solve this whole messy immigration thing. At a Fox News town hall with Sean Hannity last night, Trump essentially admitted he's "stumped," turning to the audience and asking: “Can we go through a process or do you think they have to get out? Tell me, I mean, I don’t know, you tell me.”

Source:
×