Sen. Tom Coburn, 65, the fiery, conservative Oklahoma Republican who is well-known for pushing socially conservative measures such as anti-abortion bills and defending gun rights and the death penalty, is fighting prostate cancer and might not serve out his term.
Coburn, a notoriously hard worker who often arrives at work at 4 a.m., has been going through intensive chemotherapy for the recurrence of his cancer and is waiting until February for the results of tests that will color his future plans.
Coburn’s term is set to end in January 2017.
Coburn said last week he won’t dilly-dally about the decision, explaining, “I’m a straight shooter. When I get ready to make a decision on what I’m going to do, I’m going to put it out there,” and adding that he thinks he’s “plenty healthy enough to serve out my term.”
Asked if that prognosis could change, he joked, “I can have a heart attack and drop over, but my heart is pretty good. The decision I make will be made in conjunction with my family as to how I can best implement and impact things. And if I don’t think I can, I won’t.”
Coburn’s friend Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) said, “We’ve had obviously some conversation about what the results – or what the potential result of his surgery is going to be. It’s going to be a major deal. This is not a routine outpatient surgery. Tom is going to have to take that into consideration, and I’m confident he’ll decide the right thing.”
If Coburn steps down, a special election would be held in 2014 to find a replacement.
Coburn, an obstetrician, started his political career in the House in 1994. He has not been shy about confrontations, battling Speaker Newt Gingrich in a conservative coup to replace Gingrich as speaker in 1997; fighting anti-tax activist Grover Norquist in 2011; and most vociferously, smashing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who he told to a group of New York Republicans is an “absolute a–hole.”