01/17/2014 03:00 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Obama 'Sad To Lose' Tom Coburn As A Colleague


President Barack Obama reacted Friday to the retirement of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), expressing that he was "sad to lose him as a colleague."

Coburn announced late Thursday that he planned to resign from his seat, nearly two years before his term is set to end. Obama and Coburn's working relationship dates back to their time together in the Senate, as both men were elected to office in November 2004.

The statement marked a rare acknowledgement from Obama of a Republican retiring from Congress. Via the White House:

Those of us who have had the privilege of serving with Tom Coburn will be sad to lose him as a colleague here in Washington. 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. The people of Oklahoma have been well-served by this “country doctor from Muskogee” over the past nine years, and I’m confident that Tom’s strength and optimism will carry him through the battles to come. Michelle and I will always be grateful to Tom and Carolyn for their friendship, and we wish them all the best in all the years ahead.

Back in November 2013, Coburn was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In his Thursday announcement, the senator said he had "been touched by the encouragement" he received after that news, but the decision was not about his health.

"As a citizen, I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere," Coburn said. "In the meantime, I look forward to finishing this year strong."