Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) will resign at the end of the year, forgoing the final two years of his term and setting in motion a special election to replace him.
The Republican senator has been battling a recurrence of prostate cancer but said in a statement his decision to leave Congress early wasn’t due to his health.
“Carolyn and I have been touched by the encouragement we’ve received from people across the state regarding my latest battle against cancer,” the senator said. “But this decision isn’t about my health, my prognosis or even my hopes and desires. My commitment to the people of Oklahoma has always been that I would serve no more than two terms. Our founders saw public service and politics as a calling rather than a career. That’s how I saw it when I first ran for office in 1994, and that’s how I still see it today. I believe it’s important to live under the laws I helped write, and even those I fought hard to block.
“As a citizen, I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere,” Coburn continued. “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.”
Under Oklahoma law, Gov. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.) cannot appoint an interim senator, but with Coburn announcing his decision now, a special election can likely be held in conjunction with the November midterm elections, where Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is also up for reelection.
The now-open Senate seat, which should remain safely in Republican hands, is expected to draw interest from across the state’s congressional delegation and could produce several open House seats as well.
Those who could jump in the contest include GOP Reps. Jim Bridenstine, Tom Cole, James Lankford and Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
Inhofe, the state’s senior senator, praised Coburn’s congressional career in a statement.
“I was honored to help recruit Tom in 1993 to run for the House of Representatives. I knew then that he was an intellectual and superb medical doctor. As we worked together, I came to learn he also had the skills that made him arguably the most sought after adviser in the Republican conference. In every policy decision, Tom has sought to be a faithful steward of the taxpayers' money and a dedicated public servant to Oklahoma,” Inhofe said. “He is a true brother in the Lord and my prayers are with him and his family in this time."
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) also hailed Coburn. “Tom Coburn is without question one of the most intelligent, principled, and decent men in modern Senate history and a lasting credit to his beloved Oklahoma," he said in a statement. "Every day that Tom has served in this body he has reminded his colleagues of why it is that we came here in the first place and helped restore us to our purpose."
--This post was updated at 11:54 p.m.