Republicans are worried about Thad Cochran.
The Mississippi senator has been recovering the past several weeks from a urological procedure. And concern is growing on and off Capitol Hill over whether the 79-year-old lawmaker will return to work on Monday when the Senate comes back from recess — not to mention how long he’ll be able to continue leading a high-profile committee or even remain in the Senate.
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Multiple sources close to the senator said his staff and allies have received limited information from his family about his health status, further fueling questions about his future.
Cochran’s office maintains that the Mississippi Republican will return next week as planned, and Senate Republican aides said they expect him back as well. But several K Street sources and Cochran allies said he’s unlikely to be back next week. Multiple sources said there’s increasing worry his absence could stretch through the end of the year.
Cochran is slated to oversee an Appropriations Committee markup on Thursday.
Cochran missed the last two weeks that the Senate was in session. Any further absence would cause major problems for Senate Republicans.
As chair of the appropriations panel, Cochran plays a critical role in government funding, particularly as Congress closes in on a mid-December deadline to keep federal agencies open. Cochran remaining out of work would also cause headaches for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as he looks to pass budget and tax reform legislation, since it takes only three senators who are absent or opposed to legislation to sink a given measure.
Plus, Cochran’s seat is viewed as particularly important, given that the establishment went all out to help him beat former state Sen. Chris McDaniel in the 2014 GOP primary. He is next up for reelection in 2020, and Republicans are desperate for him to stay in office and avoid a special election. McDaniel is already planning a campaign against incumbent Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) in 2018.
Just a few weeks ago, President Donald Trump seemed to signal in a speech about repealing Obamacare that Cochran was in the hospital, prompting his staff to release an official statement from the senator.
“I will return to the Senate on October 16 in order to continue to work on the appropriations process and participate in upcoming debates on the budget and tax reform,” Cochran said. He said that his doctor told him he was “improving but recommended I remain at home in Mississippi another week. I will follow that advice.”
His spokesman said that statement is still accurate and he will return next week.