Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) returned to Capitol Hill after an extended absence on Tuesday afternoon.
Matt Laslo, a reporter who has covered Congress since 2006 and is a regular contributor to Rolling Stone, tweeted shortly after 4:00 p.m. eastern time that Cochran “arrived at the Capitol walking up steps with help of staff and they have a wheelchair waiting for him inside.”
Sen. Thad Cochran just arrived at the Capitol walking up steps with help of staff and they have a wheelchair waiting for him inside
— Matt Laslo (@MattLaslo) October 17, 2017
No other press outlet appears to have reported on the means by which Cochran arrived at the Capitol, though Ben Jacobs of The Guardian retweeted Laslo’s tweet.
Earlier in the day, Cochran’s office issued this statement:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today returned to Washington, D.C. and issued the following statement:
“I am pleased to be back in Washington where I look forward to continuing work on the 2018 appropriations bills and to taking part in the debate on the budget and tax cuts. I appreciate all the support and kind words I received while at home.”
Cochran continues to be treated for urological issues and remains under medical supervision, which could affect his work schedule.
One day earlier, Cochran’s office issued this less optimistic statement about the senior Senator from Mississippi’s return to Washington, D.C.:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Brad White, chief of staff to U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), today issued the following statement regarding Cochran’s return to Washington:
“Mrs. Cochran informed me late Saturday night that Senator Cochran has developed another urinary tract infection. After a day of monitoring his condition, and on the advice of his physicians and other health care professionals, Senator Cochran has postponed his return to Washington. He will continue his recuperation at home in Mississippi. The Senator has expressed his intention to return to the Senate when his health permits, and to fulfill his commitment and duties to the people of his state.”
Cochran’s return to Capitol Hill was greeted with relief by Republicans in the Senate, where an important vote on tax reform is about to be held.
As The Hill reported:
Cochran’s absence had raised concern that Senate Republicans would struggle to advance their budget, a crucial step in the legislative strategy to pass tax reform.
Without Cochran, the GOP’s narrow 52-vote majority in the Senate left little room for error.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he would vote against the budget if defense spending levels were not reduced by $43 billion. With few other Republicans threatening to block the resolution, Cochran’s return to the Senate appears to assure the resolution’s passage.
Republicans may not be out of the woods yet with Senator Cochran, however, as concerns about his long term health remain, evidenced by his need for assistance to walk up the stairs to the Capitol and the presence of a wheelchair waiting for him inside.
Elected leaders and staff on both sides of the aisle will be on the lookout for any indications that Cochran’s health may not allow him to continue to serve in the Senate.
Should Cochran, whose current term ends in 2020, resign from the Senate within the next few months, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican, would appoint a successor who would serve until a special election would be held at the next general election. Should he resign within the next few months, that special election could come as early as November 2018, the same time as the state’s other establishment Republican, Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), is up for re-election to another six year term.
Should Cochran resign later in 2018, or in 2019 or 2010, any appointed successor might be able to serve the balance of Cochran’s term, although legal experts from both parties would likely wrangle over the specifics. Voters in Mississippi would then select a senator to serve a full six year term in the November 2020 general election.