WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, a medical doctor and outspoken fiscal conservative, said he would retire two years early at the end of the current congressional session.
The Oklahoma Republican told Politico last week his recurrence of prostate cancer might force him to leave office before his term expires in early 2017.
But his announcement Thursday said his health was not why he was retiring.
"As a citizen, I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere," he said. "In the meantime, I look forward to finishing this year strong."
He said he and his family were "touched by the encouragement we've received from people across the state regarding my latest battle against cancer. But this decision isn't about my health, my prognosis or even my hopes and desires."
President Obama praised Coburn.
"Tom and I entered the Senate at the same time, becoming friends after our wives struck up a conversation at an orientation dinner. And even though we haven't always agreed politically, we've found ways to work together -- to make government more transparent, cut down on earmarks, and fight to reduce wasteful spending and make our tax system fairer," Obama said. "The people of Oklahoma have been well-served by this 'country doctor from Muskogee' over the past nine years."
In November Coburn told the Oklahoman newspaper he would leave early if he thought he and his staff couldn't make a difference "that will change what's coming for this country."
He recently told reporters in private remarks he was discouraged by Senate gridlock, the Washington Post said.
His retirement announcement lamented how "dysfunctional ... Washington is these days."
Coburn, 65, one of three medical doctors in the Senate, was diagnosed with a recurrence of prostate cancer in the fall. Decades earlier, he was diagnosed with melanoma.
He timed his resignation so his replacement could be elected during the regular ballot process this year, rather than in a special election.
Republicans hoping to replace him are widely believed to be U.S. House members Tom Cole, James Lankford and Jim Bridenstine, along with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoman said.
His replacement will be elected to finish the last two years of his term.
Both Senate seats from Oklahoma will be on the ballot in November. Sen. Jim Inhofe, also a Republican, is running for re-election.
Coburn limited himself to two Senate terms, so if he hadn't decided to leave early he would have retired at the end of his current term.
Coburn is widely viewed as one of the most conservative Republicans in the Senate. By his own estimate he saved the federal government billions of dollars in new government programs.
But he has prided himself on working with Democrats and is among the few Republican senators who have a friendly relationship with Obama.