On Monday, Cochran announced he will resign from the Senate on April 1 owing to health reasons.
In a statement, the 80-year-old Cochran said, "I regret my health has become an ongoing challenge". In a statement, Cochran said he intends to complete the appropriations cycle before retiring. Richard Shelby (R-AL) is the next-most-senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee after Cochran, who is the 10th-longest serving US senator in history.
Cochran served six years in the House of Representatives before joining the Senate, putting his time in Congress at over 40 years.
Mike Espy, a Democrat who served as President Bill Clinton's secretary of agriculture, says he has a "strong intention" to run for an open U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi.
Cochran's departure set off a scramble within a state Republican Party already struggling to manage a disaffected conservative faction.
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A recent Politico article called Cochran, who chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee and oversees billions of dollars in government spending, "frail and disoriented".
"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.
Republicans are anxious that one or both of Mississippi's Senate seats could be in jeopardy unless a top replacement is named for Cochran. He seemed disoriented at times on the campaign trail four years ago but the Republican establishment despised his tea-party challenger, Chris McDaniel, and saw Cochran as the only man in MS capable of holding him off.
Whatever his motives, Cochran has put his political ally Governor Phil Bryant firmly into the catbird seat with respect to his soon-to-be vacant Senate seat. Cochran wasn't up for re-election until 2020, but his health issues had sparked chatter about him leaving the Senate sometime this spring. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has urged Bryant to appoint himself, according to a person familiar with the discussions. All of a sudden he wants to give someone a boost as he did with Roger Wicker years ago.
"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.