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7 Things to Know About Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)

Associated Press

1) After Sen. Tom Coburn got married, he began his career as a businessman. From a 2004 Washington Post story:

The wedding took place in the summer of '68, and by the next summer they moved to Virginia, just outside Richmond, so he could help his father get a new business off the ground.

"I was focused on business, kind of driven. I was sort of aloof from the counterculture. I never even heard of marijuana," he says. Coburn proved to be a spectacular businessman. He took over the lens division and grew it in just under a decade from about $100,000 in sales to $40 million to $50 million. When a strike broke out, he quashed it. When a Japanese competitor threatened, he proposed an overhaul that seemed financially reckless to everyone at the time, but that ended up saving the company.

In 1975 Revlon bought the company. Coburn quickly got bored shuttling back and forth to headquarters in New York and dealing with new managers who he says "didn't know what they were talking about."

2) Coburn is a three-time cancer survivor. His first bout inspired him to switch careers. From the 2004 Washington Post story:

When he came home from Christmas that year, his mother, who volunteered at a hospital, noticed that a mole on his face had turned gray. Soon afterward a doctor diagnosed it as melanoma and told him he had a 20 percent chance of surviving more than a year.

Coburn left the office and "drove around aimlessly," he writes in his book. He thought about his wife, his three young daughters. He thought: "Why am I here? What am I doing here? If there's a limited amount of time what am I doing with it?"

At 30, when the scare had passed, Coburn left Virginia to get his medical degree at the University of Oklahoma and then returned to Muskogee to open Maternal and Family Practice Associates.

3) When the late Sen. Arlen Specter battled cancer, Coburn offered him advice and support. From Specter’s 2008 book, “Never Give In”:

Like Marcelle, the most junior senator on the Judiciary Committee, Dr. Tom Coburn, was a cancer survivor – he had actually survived both colon cancer and melanoma – and he was one of the few nonlawyers on the committee. That he and I were on opposite ends of the political spectrum in the Republican conference did not preclude a warm relationship. As a practicing physician, he was like a second doctor to me, keeping tabs on my progress. He would say that dealing with cancer is “70 percent attitude, 30 percent physicians.”

4) Coburn, after serving three terms from 1995-2001 in the House of Representatives, didn’t want to return to Washington. But, during a phone call with his mother, he reportedly said, “People just won’t leave me alone.” From the 2004 story in The Washington Post:

"I said, 'If you're supposed to be a U.S. senator, you will. Put it in the Lord's hands and leave it there,' " Joy Herrell recalls (she remarried after Coburn's father died). "But he just had an awful feeling."

He went to bed but just lay awake. What plagued him, he says, was "an impression in my spiritual life that I was supposed to do this."

"Financially, it's terrible. For my family, it's terrible. And politically, it's stupid to get into a race six to nine months after everyone's already into it. But it's kind of been one of those things that's marked my life. I learned to be obedient to that still inner voice. There are pauses in all of our spirits where we get checked. Whether it's just an impression or God really speaking to you, I don't know, but you get a sense that this is where you're supposed to go. And when you listen there's a settledness."

At 6 a.m. Monday he called his mother again to tell her he'd changed his mind.

5) Another guest on “Meet the Press” this Sunday had this to say about Coburn in a 2011 New York Times story:

“Tom Coburn is very, very conservative,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. “He is a true believer, but he is one who can see the other side, which is not the case with what is going on in the House right now.”

6) Coburn and then-Sen. Barack Obama became good friends and close colleagues when they entered the Senate after the 2004 election. From a 2011 story in The Wall Street Journal:

The pair regularly communicate—by phone, in handwritten notes and in person at the White House—and lately their conversations have included strategies for how Democrats and Republicans can work together on cutting the federal budget, according to aides to both men. They say both men see potential for a political alliance.

The unlikely friendship between Mr. Coburn, an obstetrician from Muskogee, Okla., and Mr. Obama, a state legislator and lawyer from Chicago, was hatched in 2004, after both were elected to the Senate. Seated together at dinner during freshman orientation, their wives hit it off, and soon the senators did, too. They found common interests, mainly transparency in government, and worked together on legislation to require competitive bidding for government contracts to rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

 7) On Wednesday night, Coburn voted no on legislation to temporarily fund the federal government and raise the debt ceiling. After the vote, he posted this statement on his Senate website:

“Washington doesn’t need short-term budget and debt limit extensions as much as we need a long-term spending addiction recovery plan.  The American people should do what any responsible parent would do if their adolescent child couldn't handle the responsibility of a credit card.  We should cut up the credit card and live within our means.  With this agreement, the hard decisions we have to make have only been put off for another day, when our fiscal problems will be bigger and more painful to solve.  It’s time to make tough choices now.”