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Historically, the senior-most member of the U.S. Senate’s majority party has held the position

Today’s announcement that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is retiring from the Senate could set up Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) to become President pro tempore of the United States Senate in 2019.

The position is the second highest ranking in the Senate and third in line for the presidency, after the Vice President and Speaker of the House.

Since 1949, the most senior member of the majority party has held the position. If Hatch retires, and Cochran remains in the Senate, Cochran would likely hold the position – unless Democrats rest control of the Senate away from the GOP in the 2018 elections.

Cochran, who turned 80 in December, has served as U.S. Senator from Mississippi since 1978.

Cochran would be the fifth Mississippian to hold the position and the first since Democratic Senator John C. Stennis in 1989.

It’s possible, of course, that Cochran could also announce his retirement this year. For several months now, Mississippi politicos have speculated that Cochran could retire, citing his concerns about his health.

If Cochran does step down, it’s likely that Mississippi State Senator Chris McDaniel (R-Ellisville) will opt to vie for his seat. McDaniel – who throughout 2017 teased that he might run a primary campaign against Roger Wicker (R), Mississippi’s other U.S. Senator – has said that he will announce his electoral plans sometime this month.

McDaniel told a member of Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s inner circle in October that he was interested in being appointed to Cochran’s seat ‘if Cochran were to retire or die before his term expires,’ according to reporting in the Washington Post. McDaniel said there had been no official conversations.

If Cochran does plan to retire, he will likely make the announcement soon. If not, he’s on track to become the next President pro tempore of the Senate, so long as Republicans hold it.

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