WASHINGTON — Sen. Tom Coburn, who has spent a combined 15 years here rooting out government waste and warning about mounting U.S. debt, will resign after the current session of Congress, foregoing the final two years of his term.
Coburn, R-Muskogee, has been battling a recurrence of prostate cancer but said he wasn't leaving early because of his health.
In a brief interview, Coburn said he wanted to focus on the next stage in his life.
“I've had a lot of changes in my life,” Coburn, 65, said. “This is another one.”
Coburn said he had some ideas about what he would do next but that he wasn't ready to discuss them. He said his wife, Carolyn, was “ecstatic” about his decision.
In a prepared statement, he said, “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.”
In an interview in November, shortly after he began treatment for prostate cancer, Coburn told The Oklahoman, “I got good assurances that I'll be around five or ten years, unless I'm another 1 in 100,000 that doesn't respond to treatment.”
Coburn has become increasingly frustrated with the Democratic leadership of the Senate, which has routinely blocked him and every other senator from offering amendments to bills. He said in November that he would leave his seat early if he thought he and his staff could not make a difference “that will change what's coming for this country.”
Coburn's decision could set off a major scramble among Republicans hoping to replace him. U.S. Reps. Tom Cole, R-Moore; James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City; and Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa; will likely consider the race, along with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
Coburn timed his resignation so his replacement could be elected during the regular ballot process this year. It will be a very compressed time frame for a statewide race, particularly for those who don't have statewide name recognition.