Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn confirmed Thursday night that he will not serve out his full Senate term and intends to step down after 2014 because of deepening health problems.
In a statement, Coburn acknowledged that he is battling a serious recurrence of cancer and said he would continue to fight for his priorities during the remainder of his time in office.
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“Carolyn and I have been touched by the encouragement we’ve received from people across the state regarding my latest battle against cancer. But this decision isn’t about my health, my prognosis or even my hopes and desires,” Coburn said. “As a citizen, I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere.”
(Earlier on POLITICO: Battling cancer again, Coburn may cut short his term)
Coburn notified aides of his intentions earlier in the day; his spokesman denied to POLITICO earlier in the evening that the senator planned to leave the Senate.
The 65-year-old physician’s decision to resign marks a shift in his plans: In an interview earlier this month, he said he believed he was “plenty healthy enough to serve out my term,” but acknowledged that circumstances could change.
“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 said at the time.
Coburn’s departure from the Senate will cut short a nine-year career in the chamber and a longer tenure in Congress that dates back to the 1994 Republican revolution. An obstetrician by training, Coburn served six years in the House — often clashing with his GOP colleagues as well as Democrats and participating in attempt to depose then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich — before standing by a pledge to step down after three terms.
He returned to politics in 2004 when one of Oklahoma’s Senate seats opened up, winning an upset victory in the Republican primary and defeating a highly touted Democratic recruit in the general election. Easily reelected in 2010, Coburn has long said he would not seek a third term in 2016.
(Also on POLITICO: Tom Coburn slams jobless benefits ‘spin’)
Coburn’s resignation is expected to set up a special election to fill out the remainder of his term in deeply conservative Oklahoma.
Coburn has fought cancer on and off for years: In addition to the recurrence of prostate cancer that he announced in November, Coburn has also grappled with melanoma and colon cancer. He had brain surgery about six years ago as a result of a benign brain tumor.
As of last week, he was facing the prospect of serious surgery that would require doctors to enter through the rib cage – a procedure serious enough that Coburn had already begun to discuss the possible ramifications for his Senate career with close family and friends.
Asked recently if he thought Coburn would serve out his term, North Carolina Richard Burr, a friend of the Oklahoman’s, said: “Could he? Sure. Will he? I don’t know the answer to that.”
Burr added: “Health treatments are a pretty demanding thing, and I think Tom has always been one that gives 100 percent in everything that he does. And if at any point he feels like he can’t give 100 percent to be a representative of Oklahoma, then I’m sure that will have an influence on maybe what he did.”
In the interview this month, Coburn said that he felt strong and recalled starting one workday at 4 a.m. and ending around 7:30 p.m., a far longer day than many staffers about half his age put in.
“My health is good, as far as endurance,” Coburn said then. “Probably people should judge my mental health rather than my physical health on why you want to be here.”
Manu Raju contributed to this report.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/01/oklahoma-senator-tom-coburn-wont-serve-rest-of-term-102302.html#ixzz2qdCnqChc