WASHINGTON, DC (WLOX) - Mississippi's senior U.S. Senator, Republican Thad Cochran, just announced he will resign from the Senate effective April 1, 2018.
"I regret my health has become an ongoing challenge," Cochran said in a statement Monday. "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.
It has been a great honor to serve the people of Mississippi and our country. I've done my best to make decisions in the best interests of our nation, and my beloved state. My top concern has always been my constituents in Mississippi.
Cochran is chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. He was first elected to the Senate in 1978, becoming the first Republican in more than 100 years to win a statewide election in Mississippi. He is the tenth-longest serving Senator in U.S. history, and previously served three terms in House of Representatives.
"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.," Cochran said. "My efforts, and those of my staff, to assist them will continue and transfer to my successor."
Within the next ten days of Cochran's official resignation, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant will name a temporary replacement in the Senate. Because Mississippi already has a statewide Congressional election set for November, the special election to fill Cochran's seat will be held at that time. Several of the top names on that list of potential appointees include Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. Some, including President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have suggested the governor appoint himself to the position, but Bryant has said he's not interested.
Just about an hour after Cochran announced he was stepping down, former U.S. Representative and Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Mike Espy announced he plans to run for the open Senate seat.
All this means Mississippi could end the year with entirely new representation in the U.S. Senate. State Senator Chris McDaniel, who ran unsuccessfully against Cochran in 2014, announced last week that he was launching another campaign for the U.S. Senate, this time against Sen. Roger Wicker. Two Democrats also qualified for that race - State Representative David Baria from Bay St. Louis and businessman Howard Sherman, husband of actress Sela Ward.
Well wishes from across the state and nation are already coming in to honor Cochran's long history of public service.
"Senator Cochran's service to our nation has made the lives of Mississippians better, and his support of our military has made America safer," Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said. "He fought relentlessly for Mississippi from helping our farmers get their crops to market to fighting for our citizens after Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the state. He earned and maintained the respect of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle even though he never shied away from a battle to protect his beloved state. Elee and I wish Senator Cochran and his family well as they enter this new chapter."
"There are no words to describe how important Senator Cochran, a true gentleman and statesman, has been to Mississippi," Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said Monday. "While he leaves a lasting legacy in agriculture, defense, and Hurricane Katrina recovery, and a huge gap in Senate and national leadership, the citizens of Mississippi experience the largest vacuum in the loss of his public presence and influence on almost every aspect of our personal and political lives. Lynn and I wish him and his family the best in his retirement and welcome him home. Job well done."
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) released the following statement regarding Senator Thad Cochran's retirement announcement:
Mississippi's 4th District Congressman Steven Palazzo said, "I am thankful that I have been able to work alongside Senator Cochran over the last eight years. The state of Mississippi is fortunate to have a devoted leader like Thad Cochran serving as our Senator. His dedication to making a difference, not only for the state of Mississippi, but the entire nation will be remembered forever. He is someone that has made a permanent impact on our country. Through his service in the Navy and as a leader in Congress over the last 40 years, he has served as an expert decision maker who accomplished major victories during his tenure. I will certainly miss working with Senator Cochran, but I know that serving in Congress is only a chapter in our lives. While Senator Cochran will return to Mississippi, his legacy will reign in the halls of Congress forever. I wish my friend good health and a relaxing retirement with your family. Thank you, Senator Cochran for your leadership for Mississippi and the United States."