Thad Cochran

Last updated

Thad Cochran
United States Senator
from Mississippi
In office
December 27, 1978 April 1, 2018
Preceded by James Eastland
Succeeded by Cindy Hyde-Smith
Chair of the
Senate Appropriations Committee
In office
January 3, 2015 April 1, 2018
Preceded by Barbara Mikulski
Succeeded by Richard Shelby
In office
January 3, 2005 January 3, 2007
Preceded by Ted Stevens
Succeeded by Robert Byrd
Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee
In office
January 3, 2003 January 3, 2005
Preceded by Tom Harkin
Succeeded by Saxby Chambliss
Chair of the Senate Republican Conference
In office
January 3, 1991 January 3, 1997
Leader Bob Dole
Trent Lott
Preceded by John Chafee
Succeeded by Connie Mack III
Vice Chair of the Senate Republican Conference
In office
January 3, 1985 January 3, 1991
Leader Bob Dole
Preceded by Jake Garn
Succeeded by Bob Kasten
Member of the U.S.HouseofRepresentatives
from Mississippi's 4th district
In office
January 3, 1973 December 26, 1978
Preceded by Charles H. Griffin (Redistricting)
Succeeded by Jon Hinson
Personal details
William Thad Cochran

(1937-12-07)December 7, 1937
Pontotoc, Mississippi, U.S.
DiedMay 30, 2019(2019-05-30) (aged 81)
Oxford, Mississippi, U.S.
Political party Republican (1967–2019)
Other political
Democratic (before 1967)
Rose Clayton
(m. 1964;died 2014)

Kay Webber(m. 2015)
Education University of Mississippi (BA, JD)
Signature Thad Cochran signature.png
Website Senate website
Military service
AllegianceFlag of the United States.svg  United States
Branch/serviceFlag of the United States Navy (official).svg  United States Navy
Years of service1959–1961
Rank Ensign

William Thad Cochran ( /ˈkɒkrən/ ; December 7, 1937 – May 30, 2019) was an American attorney and politician who served as a United States Senator for Mississippi from 1978 to 2018. A Republican, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1973 to 1978.


Born in Pontotoc, Mississippi, Cochran graduated from the University of Mississippi. He served in the United States Navy as an ensign (1959–1961) before graduating from the University of Mississippi School of Law. After practicing law for several years in Jackson, Mississippi, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1972. He served three terms in the House representing Jackson and portions of southwest Mississippi.

Cochran won a three-way race for U.S. Senate in 1978, becoming the first Republican to represent Mississippi in the Senate since Reconstruction. [1] He was subsequently reelected to six additional terms by wide margins. He was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee from 2005 to 2007 and again from 2015 to 2018. He also chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee from 2003 to 2005. With over 45 years of combined House and Senate service, Cochran is the second longest-served member of Congress ever from Mississippi, only after former Democratic Congressman Jamie L. Whitten.

Early life

William Thad Cochran was born on December 7, 1937, in Pontotoc, Mississippi, the son of Emma Grace (née Berry) and William Holmes Cochran, a teacher and school principal, respectively. His family settled in Hinds County, Mississippi, home of the state capital, Jackson, in 1946 after a few moves around the northern part of the state. [2] He graduated valedictorian [3] from Byram High School near Jackson. [4]

Cochran then received a B.A. degree from the University of Mississippi with a major in psychology and a minor in political science in 1959. [4] There he joined the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and was on the cheerleading squad (fellow senator Trent Lott was also an Ole Miss cheerleader). [5] He was elected to the Phi Kappa Phi honor society, and worked as a lifeguard at Livingston Lake in Jackson during the summers. [6]

After a time in the United States Navy (1959–1961), where he was commissioned an ensign aboard the USS Macon, Cochran received a J.D. degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1965. While in law school, he won the Frederick Hamel Memorial Award for having the highest scholastic average in the first year class and served on the editorial board of the Mississippi Law Journal . [6] He then practiced law for seven years. In 1964 he married Rose Clayton, who died in 2014. The couple had two children. [7] On May 23, 2015, Cochran married his longtime aide Kay Webber in a private ceremony in Gulfport, Mississippi. [8]

In 1968, Lamar Alexander recruited Cochran, then a Democrat, to serve as chairman of the Citizens for Nixon-Agnew in Mississippi. [9] In 1972, Jackson lawyer Mike Allred and oilman Billy Mounger, both Republicans, recruited Cochran to run for Congress as a Republican. [10]

U.S. House of Representatives

Cochran during his time in the House of Representatives Thad Cochran 1973 Congressional photo.jpg
Cochran during his time in the House of Representatives

In 1972, Democratic Congressman Charles H. Griffin of Mississippi's 3rd congressional district decided not to run for a third full term. [11] Cochran won the Republican nomination for the Jackson-based district, which was renumbered as the 4th District after redistricting. He defeated Democratic state senator Ellis B. Bodron by 47.9% to 44%. A factor in Cochran's victory was the strong Republican showing in that year's presidential election. Richard Nixon won most of the counties in the 4th district by over 70 percent of the vote. Hinds County, for instance, gave him 77 percent, en route to taking 78 percent of Mississippi's popular vote. The Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate that year, Gil Carmichael, an automobile dealer from Meridian, finished with 38 percent of the vote against James Eastland but was shunned by the statewide Nixon campaign.

That year, Cochran and Trent Lott (who later served alongside him in the U.S. Senate) became the second and third Republicans to be elected to represent Mississippi in the House of Representatives since Reconstruction [12] (Prentiss Walker was the first in 1964). [13]

Cochran quickly became very popular in his district, even though almost none of its living residents had been represented by a Republican before. He was handily re-elected with 70.2% in 1974, a year in which anger over the Watergate scandal caused several Republicans to lose their seats. He was re-elected with an even larger 76% of the vote in 1976.

U.S. Senate

Cochran with President Ronald Reagan in 1981 Reagan Contact Sheet C4383 (cropped).jpg
Cochran with President Ronald Reagan in 1981


In 1978, six-term Democratic senator James Eastland decided to retire. Cochran ran for the seat and won the Republican primary, defeating state senator and former Jones County prosecutor Charles W. Pickering, 69%–31% percent. In the general election, he faced Democrat Maurice Dantin, a former district attorney who had triumphed in a four-way primary with the backing of Eastland, and Independent candidate Charles Evers, the mayor of Fayette. Evers, the first African-American to be elected mayor of a Mississippi town since Reconstruction, split the Democratic vote and Cochran won with a plurality, taking 45.3% to Dantin's 31.8% and Evers' 22.6%. [14] This made Cochran the first Republican to win a statewide election in Mississippi in a century. [15] Eastland resigned on December 26 to give Cochran a seniority advantage over other new incoming senators. Governor Cliff Finch appointed Cochran to serve the remaining week of Eastland's term. [16]

Cochran faced an expected strong challenge for re-election from incumbent Democratic governor William Winter in 1984, but he was re-elected easily, 60.9 to 39.1 percent. For decades, Cochran did not face a serious challenger. He was completely unopposed in 1990 and took 71 percent of the vote in 1996. The Democratic nominee, Bootie Hunt, a retired factory worker, received 27.4 percent. No Democrat ran against him in 2002 and he faced only Reform Party candidate Shawn O'Hara, beating him by 84.6 to 15.4 percent. He faced his first serious challenger in twenty-four years in 2008 when the Democrats nominated State Representative Erik R. Fleming. In a year that saw widespread Democratic gains, Cochran was still re-elected, 61.4–37.6 percent. In 2014, Cochran faced a primary challenge from Tea Party-supported candidate Chris McDaniel. Since neither candidate won 50% in the Republican primary, a run-off election was held; Cochran narrowly defeated McDaniel in the run-off to win the Republican nomination for a seventh term in the Senate. [17]


Generally, Cochran kept a lower national profile than conventional wisdom would suggest for someone who spent almost half a century in Washington, including seven terms in the Senate. However, he had considerable influence behind the scenes, especially in Mississippi. [18]

In March 1981, after the Senate Agriculture Committee overwhelmingly approved a proposal to enact a temporary freeze on the level of dairy price supports and thereby gave President Ronald Reagan his first congressional victory for his federal spending reductions, Cochran stated that the vote was "a great victory for" Reagan and "a very important first step in having his program adopted by Congress." [19]

In April 1981, along with Bob Packwood, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, John Heinz, David Pryor, Spark M. Matsunaga, Donald W. Riegle Jr., and Bill Bradley, Cochran was one of eight senators to cosponsor a bipartisan six-year experiment in care at home for the elderly and disabled for the purpose of presenting an alternative to expensive hospitals and nursing facilities that would create a system where both health and social needs would be tended to at home with the aid of federal and state-supported nurses, homemakers, specialists in health care, and an assortment of helpers. The program would have also seen teams of health aides in 10 states screen elderly and disabled people seeking to enter nursing homes and have the aides then decide "whether a person could remain at home without institutional care as long as a nurse or helper was able to help with such tasks as cooking a meal, dressing or walking up a flight of steps." [20]

Cochran served as Vice Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference from 1985 to 1991 and as Chairman from 1991 to 1996. He chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee from 2003 to 2005. In 2005, he was appointed as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, making him the first Republican from a former Confederate state to chair the committee. While Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Cochran worked to expedite the process of approving spending bills to minimize partisan skirmishing. [21] He was the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee from 2007 to 2014.[ citation needed ]

In June 1991, Cochran introduced legislation that would establish a commission of three members appointed by the president to oversee recognition of Indian tribes and speed the process while also retaining the criteria of the bureau and increasing federal funding for the commission to $1.5 million from the $450,000 then being allocated to the bureau for reviewing applications for recognition. Cochran said he was "supportive of trying to establish a procedure that would permit these matters to be resolved by a commission" and that it was a better alternative to seeking to "call on Congress to make decisions we're really not qualified to make." [22]

In June 1996, Cochran ran for the post of Senate Majority Leader to succeed Republican Bob Dole, who had resigned from the Senate to concentrate on his presidential campaign. Cochran faced his Mississippi colleague Trent Lott, the then-Senate Majority Whip. Cochran cast himself as an "institutionalist" and who would held to rebuild public trust in Congress through compromise over conflict. Lott promised a "more aggressive" style of leadership and courted the younger Senate conservatives. Cochran lost by 44 votes to 8. [23]

In 2005, an agricultural appropriations bill proposed by the Committee Cochran chaired contained a provision (sec. 782) that said:

The Federal facility located at the South Mississippi Branch Experiment Station in Poplarville, Mississippi, and known as the "Southern Horticultural Laboratory", shall be known and designated as the "Thad Cochran Southern Horticultural Laboratory" [24]

Cochran was chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee when it passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (H.R. 1625) which was signed into law on March 23, 2018, and contained a provision (Title VI, Section 632) that said:

(a) The United States courthouse located at 501 East Court Street in Jackson, Mississippi, shall be known and designated as the "Thad Cochran United States Courthouse". (b) Any reference in a law, map, regulation, document, paper, or other record of the United States to the United States courthouse referred to in subsection (a) shall be deemed to be a reference to the "Thad Cochran United States Courthouse". [25]

The Courthouse naming provision of the act was included by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, [26] who served as the ranking Democrat on the committee and considered Cochran his closest friend in the Senate. [27] On August 9, 2018, a ceremony was held which recognized the naming of the Thad Cochran United States Courthouse in Jackson, Mississippi. [28]

On March 5, 2018, Cochran announced that he would retire from the Senate on April 1, 2018. [29] He is one of the longest-serving members of Congress in history. [30] Cochran's official papers including "3,500 linear feet of documents and nearly 6 terabytes of digital files" over 45 years of service will be housed in the Modern Political Archives at the University of Mississippi. [31]

On May 12, 2018, the University of Mississippi awarded Cochran with its Mississippi Humanitarian Award, given "to exceptional figures who have played a major role in shaping the state." Previous recipients include Jim and Sally McDonnell Barksdale, former governor William and Elise Winter, and civil rights champion Myrlie Evers-Willams. [32]

Anti-lynching law

On June 13, 2005, the U.S. Senate formally apologized for its failure to enact a federal anti-lynching law in the early 20th century, "when it was most needed". The resolution was passed on a voice vote with 80 Senators cosponsoring. Cochran and fellow Mississippian Trent Lott were among the 20 Senators who did not join as cosponsors. [33] Cochran said, "I'm not in the business of apologizing for what someone else did or didn't do. I deplore and regret that lynching occurred and that those committing them weren't punished, but I'm not culpable." [34]

Time magazine article

In April 2006, he was selected by Time as one of "America's 10 Best Senators". He was dubbed "The Quiet Persuader" for his role in winning money for the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He managed to wring "$29 billion out of his colleagues, almost double the money [President George W.] Bush and congressional leaders had initially pledged". [35] Earlier, Cochran threatened to derail a defense appropriations bill unless it included funding for installations on the Gulf Coast. [35]

The article also noted that Cochran has "gained the trust of the Administration and Capitol Hill for his quiet, courtly manner... using his experience and mastery of the issues to persuade his colleagues privately rather than making demands on them in public". The magazine quoted an unnamed "senior GOP Senator" who said "He doesn't get a whole lot of play in terms of coverage, but he is effectively stubborn doing what needs to be done." [35]


Senators Cochran (left) and Carl Levin (right) meet with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon to discuss the budgeting (April 10, 2013). Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel meets with Senators Carl Levin (left) and Thad Cochran, April 10, 2013, at the Pentagon.jpg
Senators Cochran (left) and Carl Levin (right) meet with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon to discuss the budgeting (April 10, 2013).

Cochran was considered to be more moderate than his Republican colleagues. [36] In 2017, The New York Times arranged Republican senators based on ideology and reported that Cochran was the fourth most moderate Republican in their findings. [37] According to GovTrack, Cochran was more moderate than most of his Republican colleagues being to the left of most but to the right of several others. [38] The non-partisan National Journal gave Senator Cochran a composite ideology score of 68% conservative and 33% liberal. [39]

In 2005, he was one of nine senators who voted against the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which prohibited "inhumane treatment of prisoners, including prisoners at Guantanamo Bay". The others, all Republicans, were Wayne Allard, Kit Bond, Tom Coburn, Jeff Sessions, Jim Inhofe, Pat Roberts, John Cornyn and Ted Stevens.[ citation needed ]

On July 18, 2006, Cochran voted, along with 19 Republican senators, for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act to lift restrictions on federal funding for the research. [40]

In April 2010, it was reported that Cochran finished at the top of the Citizens Against Government Waste's list of congressional earmarks, having requested a total of $490 million in earmarks. [41]

In 2012, Cochran encouraged Mississippians to prepare for the effects of Tropical Storm Isaac, saying "Taking steps now to protect people and property should help lessen the losses that might be associated with Isaac. It is important that everyone stay informed and follow emergency orders. I am confident that Mississippians have learned valuable lessons from previous storms and will work together to prepare for this newest threat, I believe Governor Bryant and others are handling emergency preparedness actions very well." [42]


Cochran opposed President Barack Obama's health reform legislation; he voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in December 2009, [43] and he voted against the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. [44]

Gun law

Cochran had an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) due to his consistent voting and support of pro-gun legislation. The NRA endorsed Cochran in the 2014 election. [45]

In April 2013, Cochran was one of forty-six senators to vote against the passing of a bill which would have expanded background checks for gun buyers. Cochran voted with 40 Republicans and 5 Democrats to stop the passage of the bill. [46]

Cochran voted to repeal a regulation that made it illegal for certain individuals with specific mental health diagnosis to purchase guns. The original law authorizing such regulation was passed with a unanimous vote in 2007 after the Virginia Tech shooting. Cochran claims the law infringed upon the Second Amendment rights of disabled people. [47]


In 2017, Cochran was one of 22 senators to sign a letter [48] to President Donald Trump urging the President to have the United States withdraw from the Paris Agreement. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Cochran had received more than $290,000 from oil, gas and coal interests since 2012. [49]

Jefferson Davis

As senior senator of the state of Mississippi, Cochran was given the opportunity to use the desk of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, which Cochran accepted. [50] Cochran said that he was "very proud" to have Davis's desk. [50] Cochran opposed attempts to remove a statue of Davis from the U.S. Capitol. [50]

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed into law: H.R. 3706 (98th) – A bill to amend title 5, United States Code, to make the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., a legal public holiday. [51] Cochran, a Republican, voted for the act. His colleague in the Senate from Mississippi, Democrat John C. Stennis, voted against the act. [52]


In January 2018, Cochran was one of thirty-six Republican senators to sign a letter to President Trump requesting he preserve the North American Free Trade Agreement by modernizing it for the economy of the 21st Century. [53]


Legislation sponsored

  • The Natchez Trace Parkway Land Conveyance Act of 2013 (S. 304; 113th Congress) (S. 304) is a bill that was sponsored and actively lobbied for by Thad Cochran during the 113th United States Congress. [65] [66] The bill would require the National Park Service (NPS) to convey about 67 acres of property in the Natchez Trace Parkway to the state of Mississippi. The legislation also would adjust the boundaries of the parkway to include 10 additional acres. [67] The two pieces of land in question originally belonged to Mississippi, and were donated to the National Park Service when the NPS was trying to determine where to end the Natchez Trace Parkway. [65] [68] Since the NPS did not choose to use either of the pieces of land, the state would like the land back. [68]
  • The Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act of 2014 (S. 2363; 113th Congress), a bill related to hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation in the United States, aimed at improving "the public's ability to enjoy the outdoors." [69] Cochran supported the bill, arguing that the bill "deserves broad support for its policies and reforms that will protect and enhance opportunities to hunt, fish and enjoy the outdoors." [69] The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) supported the bill and thanked Cochran for his support, saying that "Senator Cochran's advocacy will help in the fight to promote, preserve, and protect our cherished outdoor heritage and defend against the radical anti-hunting activists determined to derail this important legislation." [70]
  • The Legislative Branch Appropriations Act for 1999 included language from Cochran which provided for permanent authorization of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. [71]
  • Cochran was the lead sponsor of "The Cochran-Inouye National Missile Defense Act of 1999." The policy sought to counter emerging missile threats from China, North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. [72] The policy was enacted into law on July 22, 1999, as incorporated into a House version of the bill. [73] The act stated:

    It is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate) with funding subject to the annual authorization of appropriations and the annual appropriation of funds for National Missile Defense.

Committee assignments

Caucus memberships

Resignation and death

Cochran resigned from the Senate on April 1, 2018, due to health concerns. [75] He died on May 30, 2019, almost 14 months after his resignation, in Oxford, Mississippi. [76] The cause of death was renal failure. [77]

Electoral history

Mississippi U.S. Senate election, 1978 [78]
Republican Thad Cochran267,30245.3
Democratic Maurice Dantin187,54131.8
Independent Charles Evers133,64622.6
Independent Henry Jay Kirksey1,7470.3
Mississippi U.S. Senate election, 1984 [79]
Republican Thad Cochran580,31460.9
Democratic William Winter 371,92639.1
Mississippi United States Senate election, 1990
Republican Thad Cochran274,244100.00
Turnout 274,244
Mississippi U.S. Senate election, 1996 [79]
Republican Thad Cochran624,15471.0
Democratic James W. "Bootie" Hunt240,64727.4
Independent Ted Weill 13,8611.6
General election results [80]
Republican Thad Cochran533,26984.58
Reform Shawn O'Hara97,22615.42
Turnout 630,495
Republican hold
General election results [81]
Republican Thad Cochran766,11161.44%-23.2
Democratic Erik Fleming480,91538.56%n/a
Turnout 1,247,026
Republican hold Swing
Mississippi's US Senate Republican primary election, 2014
RepublicanChris McDaniel157,73349.46%
RepublicanThad Cochran (incumbent)156,31549.02%
RepublicanThomas Carey4,8541.52%
Mississippi's US Senate Republican primary runoff election, 2014
RepublicanThad Cochran (incumbent)194,97251.01%
RepublicanChris McDaniel187,24948.99%

The Cochran campaign denied allegations of vote buying made by a blogger regarding his primary run-off victory in 2014. [82]

Mississippi's US Senate election, 2014 [83]
Republican Thad Cochran (incumbent) 378,481 59.90
Democratic Travis Childers 239,43937.89
Reform Shawn O'Hara13,9382.21
Total votes631,858100
Republican hold

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U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Charles H. Griffin (Redistricting)
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's 4th congressional district

Succeeded by
Jon Hinson
Party political offices
Preceded by
Gil Carmichael
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Mississippi
(Class 2)

1978, 1984, 1990, 1996, 2002, 2008, 2014
Succeeded by
Cindy Hyde-Smith
Preceded by
Jake Garn
Secretary of the Senate Republican Conference
Succeeded by
Bob Kasten
Preceded by
John Chafee
Chair of the Senate Republican Conference
Succeeded by
Connie Mack
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
James Eastland
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Mississippi
Served alongside: John Stennis, Trent Lott, Roger Wicker
Succeeded by
Cindy Hyde-Smith
Preceded by
Tom Harkin
Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee
Succeeded by
Saxby Chambliss
Preceded by
Ted Stevens
Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee
Succeeded by
Robert Byrd
Preceded by
Robert Byrd
Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee
Succeeded by
Richard Shelby
Preceded by
Pat Roberts
Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee
Succeeded by
Debbie Stabenow
Preceded by
Barbara Mikulski
Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee
Succeeded by
Richard Shelby