Sen. Thad Cochran, who has served nearly 40 years in the United States Senate, is set to become president pro tempore with the announced retirement of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
The leadership role is elected by the Senate and is, “by custom,” given to the longest-serving senator from the majority party, making Cochran, 80, third in line to the presidency — behind the vice president and Speaker of the House.
For Cochran to reach the seat, Republicans would need to maintain majority control in 2018 midterms, and Cochran would need to continue to serve — both of which are in question.
With the Alabama Senate seat going to Democrat Doug Jones in December, Republicans have just one seat to give before losing a majority. Democratic operatives believe several Senate seats held by Republicans are in play in 2018.
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Cochran has faced several health ailments in recent weeks, and at least one of his Senate colleagues has publicly said the senator is expected to retire in 2018, before his term ends in 2020.
Hatch, 83, and Cochran are two of the oldest members in the oldest ever U.S. Senate. Hatch has served 40 years in the Senate. Cochran is the next longest serving Republican senator at 38 years.
Cochran’s close friend Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, has served longer in the Senate but would not qualify for pro tempore given the current Republican majority.
Cochran serves as chairman of the Appropriations committee, controlling hundreds of billions a year in spending and steering much of it to Mississippi. That chairmanship will end in 2018 due to Senate term limits, meaning Mississippi could stand to benefit from a Cochran promotion in 2019.