U.S. Senator Tim Johnson hospitalized

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

U.S. Senator Tim Johnson

Tim Johnson, a United States Democratic Senator from South Dakota, reportedly suffered a stroke at about 11:30 this morning. However, subsequent tests revealed that the senator did not suffer a stroke or a heart attack. He was transported to George Washington University Hospital by ambulance, where he was diagnosed with a congenital arteriovenous malformation and underwent brain surgery. He is currently "recovering without complications" and "appropriately responsive to both word and touch" but it still in critical condition and being monitored. Additional surgery may be required.

Currently, the US Senate is controlled by the Republican Party; however, when the Senate reconvenes after the recent midterm elections the Democrats will have a one senator majority. Under the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, state legislatures can give their governor the power to appoint someone else to take over, but this power can only be used in cases where the senator vacates his seat. Historically, this applies to death or resignation, but serious illness does not count.

Should Johnson die or resign, the Republican governor, Mike Rounds, will likely appoint a Republican in Johnson's place. This would bring the Senate to a 50-50 tie for organizational purposes and give Vice President Dick Cheney the tie-breaking vote, thus letting the Republicans control the Senate. This appointment would last until the end of Johnson's term, in 2008.

If he does not recover the senate has the power to force him out, but historically the senate has not done so. On Nov. 23, 1969, GOP Sen. Karl Mundt of South Dakota, who previously held Johnson's seat, had a debilitating stroke. He later endured months of speech and physical therapy at his Washington home. Mundt's wife, Mary, refused to vacate the seat despite pressure from the state's Republicans. Mund remained formally in his seat until his term expired in 1973.[1] In the past multiple other senators have become incapacitated for months or even years and kept their seat, [2] but party control of the senate was not involved.