A four and a half decades-long career as a member of the Congress of the United States is coming to a humiliating and undignified end for 79-year-old Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS).
A reporter from Politico captured the sad scene at the Capitol on Wednesday:
Cochran appeared frail and at times disoriented during a brief hallway interview on Wednesday. He was unable to answer whether he would remain chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and at one point, needed a staffer to remind him where the Senate chamber is located.
“Don’t believe everything you hear,” Cochran said in a low voice when asked whether he plans to retire after 44 years in office.
However, when queried about whether he would stay on as Appropriations chairman, Cochran seemed confused and just repeated the question. “As chairman of the Appropriations Committee?” Cochran asked.
Cochran had to be guided by staffers around a security checkpoint inside the Capitol. He started to walk into a first-floor room — though the Senate chamber is on the second floor. He was then ushered by an aide up to the Senate.
On Tuesday, Breitbart News reported that after weeks away from the Senate due to health issues, Cochran “arrived at the Capitol walking up steps with help of staff and they have a wheelchair waiting for him inside,” according to a tweet by reporter Matt Laslo.
Cochran’s continuing physical and mental deterioration has prompted inevitable comparisons around Washington and in Mississippi to the film Weekend at Bernie’s, the story of two young staffers who prop up their recently deceased wealthy boss at a party held at his mansion.
First elected to the House of Representatives at the age of thirty-four in 1972, the year of the Watergate break in and President Nixon’s election to a second term, Cochran has been a member of Congress ever since.
He has outlasted eight Presidents, eight House Speakers and nine Senate Majority Leaders during his 45-year tenure in Washington.
Despite his protests to the contrary, it is hard to see how Cochran, who turns 80 in two months, will be able to continue to function as a voting member of the Senate, much less as chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.
There is no provision under the Constitution or Senate rules, however, to force a sitting member of the Senate to resign, no matter how incapacitated he or she may become.
As his ability to cast votes on the floor of the Senate comes even further into question, however, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Cochran’s own staff may find themselves forced to confront the aging senior senator from Mississippi with the inevitable need for his resignation, if only to maintain their own political viability in a Senate where Republicans hold a slim 52 to 48 majority.
Should Cochran resign in the next few weeks or months, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican, will appoint a successor who will serve until a special election is held at the next general election in November 2018.