To the extent that Cochran weighs in on any issue, it’s in the form of an official statement from his office or the appropriations panel. He has stopped meeting with anyone about substantive committee business, including other senators or House members, according to several sources familiar with his activities. Cochran’s aides deny this is the case.

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.”