Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a right-wing icon, tells Lesley Stahl he is proud of the U.S. for electing President Barack Obama. The president may be the Republican Party's biggest rival but the two men also happen to be friends. Coburn is retiring after 20 years in Congress and speaks candidly about his brash style and his status as one of the most controversial politicians in Washington. The farewell interview with Coburn, who also discusses the prostate cancer he has been fighting, will be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT.
"I am proud of our country for electing Barack Obama...it says something about us...America's special: Barack Obama, president of the United States," he tells Stahl about America electing its first black president.
The two men met at freshman orientation when they both entered the Senate together 10 years ago. It's a friendship not based on political philosophy, says Coburn. "It's based on the fact that I think he genuinely is a very smart, nice guy. I think he's a neat man," says Coburn.
"You don't have to be the same to be friends. The interesting friendships are the ones that are divergent," he says.
Coburn and President Obama have managed to hold onto their friendship even when Coburn has often publicly criticized the president over his policies. Coburn, a fiscal conservative, was trained as an obstetrician who has delivered over 4,000 babies and earned the nickname "Dr. No" because he held up so many bills. He did this by putting "holds" on bills that he says he thought would grow the budget. His holds often forced others senators of both parties to go to him in order to get their bills passed, giving Coburn a great deal of power.
How many did he hold up? "Thousands," he tells Stahl. He denies he was a big reason for the logjam in Congress. But Stahl counters, "They would pass if you didn't put the holds on them." Coburn replies, "That's right. And you'd grow the government and our problems would be worse, not better."
On his battle with cancer, Coburn says say he is currently undergoing chemotherapy and may end up losing his hair. "You all have to die of something. The deal is how to use each day to move things forward, for both you and the people you love and the country you love."