Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is a frequent critic of wasteful government spending.
(Photo: Jacquelyn Martin, AP)
WASHINGTON (USATODAY.com) - Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma announced Thursday night he will cut short his current term and leave Congress at the end of the year as he battles cancer.
Coburn, 65, is one of the Senate's leading fiscal conservatives and known for his zeal in rooting out wasteful government spending.
In a statement, Coburn played down his health issues and said he had always intended to serve no more than two terms or 12 years.
"Serving as Oklahoma's senator has been, and continues to be, one of the great privileges and blessings of my life," said Coburn, an obstetrician before entering politics. "But, after much prayer and consideration, I have decided that I will leave my Senate seat at the end of this Congress."
Coburn said he and his wife, Carolyn, have been touched by the support they've received since he was diagnosed with a recurrence of prostate cancer. He had surgery in 2011, and had told Politico recently that his health could force him to leave before his current term ends in January 2017.
"This decision isn't about my health, my prognosis or even my hopes and desires," Coburn said in his statement.. "Our founders saw public service and politics as a calling rather than a career. ... As a citizen, I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere. In the meantime, I look forward to finishing this year strong."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., praised Coburn effusively and called him "an extraordinary man and a deeply serious lawmaker.
"Tom Coburn is without question one of the most intelligent, principled and decent men in modern Senate history and a lasting credit to his beloved Oklahoma," McConnell said.
Coburn's political career began in 1994 when he was elected to the House, in the group of GOP lawmakers that helped Republicans seize power in that chamber for the first time in 40 years. He limited himself to three terms and left the House when those six years were over after the 2000 elections.
Coburn came out of retirement in 2004 to run for the Senate seat long held by Don Nickles, who had retired.
While in the Senate, Coburn became friends with then-Sen. Barack Obama, whose presidency Coburn now criticizes. Last year, Coburn drew headlines when he said Obama was "getting perilously close" to impeachment.