Senator Undergoes Brain Surgery: Control of Senate in the Balance - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Washington D.C. - 12/14/06

Senator Undergoes Brain Surgery: Control of Senate in the Balance

Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson was in critical condition Thursday after late-night brain surgery, creating political drama about which party will control the Senate next month if he is unable to continue in office.

Meanwhile, U.S. Capitol physician said Johnson underwent successful brain surgery for an arteriovenous malformation, a condition which causes arteries and veins to grow abnormally large.

The Democratic Party holds a fragile 51-49 margin in the new Senate that convenes Jan. 4. If Johnson leaves the Senate, the Republican governor of South Dakota could appoint a Republican - keeping the Senate in GOP hands with Vice President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking power.

A person familiar with Johnson's condition said the 59-year-old senator has an underlying condition that caused stroke-like symptoms and doctors will be watching him closely for the next 24 to 48 hours. The person spoke on condition of anonymity out of respect for the senator's family.

A person in George Washington University Hospital's media relations office early Thursday said the hospital was preparing to announce that Johnson's condition was critical. The employee, who declined to be identified because a formal statement was pending, would not describe the surgery.

The emergency surgery lasted past midnight Wednesday, and was disclosed by another official who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitive nature of the subject.

Apart from the risk to his health, Johnson's illness carried political ramifications, coming so soon after the Democrats won control of the Senate. If he were forced to relinquish his seat, a replacement would be named by South Dakota's GOP Gov. Mike Rounds.

A Republican appointee would create a 50-50 tie, and allow the GOP to retain Senate control.

Rounds' press secretary, Mark Johnston, said Thursday the governor was watching events and had nothing new to say.

"We're watching as much as everyone else," he said. "The most important thing is making sure Sen. Johnson is OK."

President Bush awoke Thursday to news of Johnson's condition, said first lady Laura Bush. "We're praying like I know all the people of South Dakota are for his very, very speedy recovery," Mrs. Bush told CBS's "Early Show."

Johnson, who turns 60 later this month, was admitted to George Washington University hospital at midday after experiencing what his office initially said was a possible stroke.

His spokeswoman, Julianne Fisher, later told reporters that it had been determined that the senator had suffered neither a stroke nor a heart attack.

But several hours after she spoke, Dr. John Eisold, the Capitol physician, called that into question with a statement of his own.

"Senator Tim Johnson was admitted to the George Washington University Hospital today with the symptoms of a stroke. He is currently under the care of physicians at the George Washington University Hospital."

Fisher and Eisold both said they did not intend to issue further updates on Johnson's condition until Thursday.

Johnson became disoriented during a conference call with reporters, stuttering in response to a question.

Before he ended the call, Johnson appeared to recover and asked whether there were any additional questions.

Fisher said he then walked back to his Capitol office but appeared to not be feeling well. The Capitol physician came to his office and examined him, and it was decided he should go to the hospital.

He was taken to the hospital by ambulance around noon, Fisher said.

"It was caught very early," she said.

In its earlier statement, Johnson's office had said he had suffered a possible stroke and was "undergoing a comprehensive evaluation by the stroke team."

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada went to the hospital to check on Johnson. He called Johnson a "dear friend to me and to all of us here in the Senate."

Johnson is up for re-election in 2008.

In 1969, another South Dakota senator, Karl Mundt, a Republican, suffered a stroke while in office. Mundt continued to serve until the end of his term in January 1973, although he was unable to attend Senate sessions and was stripped of his committee assignments by the Senate Republican Conference in 1972.

Johnson, who was elected in 1996, holds the same seat previously held by Mundt.

South Dakota Secretary of State Chris Nelson said there were no special restrictions on an appointment by the governor and a replacement would not have to be from the same political party.

Johnson, a centrist Democrat, was first elected to the Senate in 1996 after serving 10 years in the House. He narrowly defeated Republican John Thune in his 2002 re-election bid. Thune defeated Sen. Tom Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader, two years later.

Johnson underwent prostate cancer treatment in 2004, and subsequent tests have shown him to be clear of the disease.

Johnson is the second senator to become ill after the Nov. 7 election. Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas, a Republican, was diagnosed with leukemia on Election Day. He is back at work.

Source: Associated Press

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