CATEGORY: USA Federal Government
Cochran to step down as conference chairman
By Marty Russell
Thad Cochran, Mississippi’s senior U.S. senator, announced Thursday that he will not seek another term as chairman of the Republican Conference in the Senate and hinted that he could be seeking the chairmanship of either the full appropriations or agriculture committees.
“We made some changes last year,” Cochran said. “The conference imposed term limits on leadership offices, and I supported those rule changes, and I voted for it.”
The Senate imposed an eight-year term limit on all leadership positions with the exception of the party leader. Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas currently serves as majority leader in the Senate.
While Cochran has only served six years in the No. 3 leadership post as conference chairman, he said he did not believe he could ask his colleagues to appoint him to another eight-year term after voting for the term limit rule.
“I could not in good conscience ask them to vote for me,” he said.
Mississippi’s other U.S. senator, Trent Lott, who serves in the No. 2 leadership post in the Senate as majority whip, expressed surprise at Cochran’s decision.
“I have to say I was shocked,” Lott said Thursday. “He said he had served six years and it’s time to move on and I respect him for that.”
Lott, who is expected to make a run for the majority leader post if Dole steps down to focus on his presidential bid or if Dole should win the presidency, said he didn’t expect Cochran to try and unseat him for the whip position.
“Some people like some types of jobs, and I don’t think he particularly wants to be whip,” Lott said.
Cochran hasn’t ruled out seeking the majority leader post, which could pit Mississippi’s two senators in a race against each other. However, he said he didn’t want to distract from Dole’s presidential campaign.
“I hope Bob Dole is elected, but if he’s not I’m not going to presume to begin running for his job,” Cochran said.
Instead Cochran hinted that, because of another conference rule change, he could wind up chairman of the Appropriations Committee or Agriculture Committee next year should the GOP retain control of Congress.
“I think I could be more helpful to the state serving as chairman of a legislative committee than I would be as party leader in the Senate,” he said.
Normally, committee chairmen are chosen by seniority. Cochran is the second ranking member of the powerful Appropriations Committee and fourth on the Agriculture Committee.
Another rules change last year will require that committee chairmen be elected by secret ballot instead of seniority beginning next year.
“There may well be some decision made by the conference that some senior members will not chair full committees,” Cochran said.
Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska currently chairs the Appropriations Committee, and Richard Lugar of Indiana chairs the Agriculture Committee. Stevens is up for re-election this year.
Lott said he expects Sen. Connie Mack of Florida, currently the conference secretary, to run for Cochran’s chairman post in the conference next year.
“(Mack) announced right away that he might be interested,” Lott said. “There may be others considering that, but I think he’ll be tough to beat.”
Cochran said he had heard that Mack was interested in the job but said others had also expressed interest, including Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Sen. Paul Coverdell of Georgia.