Politico reports that Sen. Thad Cochran may retire from the Senate at the start of next year, though no official announcement has been made yet:

Sen. Thad Cochran, chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, hasn’t presided over a hearing since early September. The Mississippi Republican has not given a speech on the Senate floor all year, and he’s introduced only two bills during that time, both of them minor…

The 80-year-old’s feeble performance has fueled expectations — among senators and aides who’ve witnessed his physical and mental decline firsthand — that Cochran will step down from the Appropriations chairmanship early next year, or resign from the Senate altogether.

“The understanding is that he will leave after Jan. 1,” said a Republican senator who serves on the Appropriations Committee. “That’s what most of us believe will happen.”…

Some sources in contact with Cochran’s office believe that he might stay until a major government spending bill is completed, which might happen in January or February.

It’s a little unclear if the Republican Senator being quoted here is talking about Cochran leaving the committee or leaving the Senate, but the story suggests he means the latter. If you think Politico is being unfair calling Cochran “feeble” take a look at this story Allahpundit wrote a couple months ago. Quoting a previous Politico story:

The 79-year-old Cochran appeared frail and at times disoriented during a brief hallway interview on Wednesday. He was unable to answer whether he would remain chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and at one point, needed a staffer to remind him where the Senate chamber is located.

As for why Cochran might be delaying his retirement until the first of the year, Politico points out that probably has to do with the timing of the election to replace him:

If Cochran steps down in 2018, Gov. Phil Bryant (R) would appoint a replacement for him, with a special election to fill the rest Cochran’s term taking place in November, the same day as the regularly scheduled election for the seat held by Wicker. If Cochran leaves office before the end of this year, the special election would take place within 100 days, according to Mississippi law.

With Doug Jones having won in Alabama, the chamber is now split 51-49. However, the Senate map for 2018 still heavily favors the GOP, with Democrats having to defend 26 seats (including Franken’s seat) and Republicans having to defend 9 seats if Cochran retires next year (or 10 if John McCain also retires). Democrats were very excited by their wins in Virginia and Alabama but Virginia is a very purple state which went for Clinton last year and Alabama was a very special circumstance. The GOP shouldn’t have any trouble holding Cochran’s seat assuming their nominee isn’t a repeat of Roy Moore, i.e. someone with multiple allegations of sexual misconduct made against him by teenagers.