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Key Senator Appears 'Disoriented' Upon Return

Thad Cochran, 79, seen as 'frail' by Politico, which could mean trouble for GOP
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 19, 2017 8:37 AM CDT
Key Senator Appears 'Disoriented' Upon Return
A 2014 photo of Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.   (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

(Newser) – Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran returned to Washington this week after missing about a month over what aides have called a "urological issue" and, later, a urinary tract infection. The Republican's return, however, has done little to ease speculation about his health, especially after a shaky interview with Politico and his use of a wheelchair, notes the Clarion-Legder. Cochran, who turns 80 next month and is now in his seventh term, chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee and, beyond that, his presence at the Capitol is vital to the GOP on any important vote. Coverage:

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  • Politico interview: Politico reporters spoke with Cochran in the Senate hallway and described him as "frail and at times disoriented." They suggest he didn't seem to grasp a question about whether he'd step down as chair of the appropriations panel and even needed help finding the Senate chamber. Later, Cochran mistakenly voted yes on a budget amendment, after a staffer explicitly told him to vote no, and kept flashing a thumbs up signal as the staffer tried to explain the mistake. Eventually, Cochran realized his gaffe and changed the vote.
  • GOP problem: Given their razor-thin margin in the Senate, Republicans can't afford to lose Cochran's vote anytime soon. But the Washington Examiner reports that the party may have a bigger problem: Already, the Steve Bannon camp is considering candidates to run in a special election should Cochran step down, another possible battlefront in Bannon's "civil war" with the establishment.
  • 'Tragic': At the conservative site Hot Air, Allahpundit thinks it's "tragic and disgusting" that GOP leaders are apparently pressuring Cochran to return to the Capitol, "for no better reason than that they don’t want to have to worry about a Bannon-fueled populist challenge." Cochran should be "resting at home and enjoying his days as much he can now," not chairing "one of the most powerful legislative bodies in the world."
  • Not the first sign: In response to all this, Cochran's office released a statement saying his "focus continues to be on getting back to work," reports BuzzFeed, which notes that reports questioning the senator's mental acuity surfaced in 2014. In this one at Slate, Dave Weigel wrote that Cochran seemed confused by two questions about his re-election race. At the Atlantic, Molly Ball wrote that he "often seemed confused."
  • Aging Senate: The AP puts the Cochran situation in a different context, noting that he is part of the second oldest Senate in history. Two 80-somethings are up for re-election in 2018 (Orrin Hatch of the GOP and Democrat Dianne Feinstein), and they are among 16 senators who will be at least 65 on Election Day. In addition, Republicans John McCain, 81, and Johnny Isakson, 72, also are facing serious health concerns.
(Read more Thad Cochran stories.)

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