Cochran, who outranks Roberts in years of seniority, has yet to commit himself publicly. “I’ve been looking at what the options are but I haven’t made any decisions,” he said initially when asked by POLITICO on Tuesday. But when told that Roberts had said flatly that he “intends” to remain the ranking Republican, the always-gentle Cochran bristled a bit.
Indeed, Roberts shows no sign of backing down. “I intend to stay,” he said in a separate interview Tuesday. And if Cochran were to press his challenge, Republicans on the committee would have to first vote on the two men. And that result could be subject to a challenge in the full GOP conference.
The maneuvering now arises from Republican rules that term-limit how long an individual senator can serve in the top spot — either as ranking member or as chairman — on major committees.
Cochran has been so identified with the leadership of the Senate Appropriations Committee for so many years that the shift now comes as a shock to many. But Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told POLITICO that he fully intends to claim the top Appropriations spot and would resist any waiver to extend Cochran’s term.