Dem Senator's Brain Surgery
Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, also a South Dakotan, said as he was leaving the hospital that "it looks encouraging." There's "no need" for Johnson to relinquish his seat, Daschle stressed.
Sen. Tim Johnson, who underwent brain surgery Thursday morning, is responding to word and touch, his doctor said.
The Democratic senator from
Adm. John Eisold, attending physician at the U.S. Capitol, said Johnson's post-operative recovery has been "uncomplicated." According to the senator's spokeswoman, Julianne Fisher, Eisold said the bleeding in the senator's brain was the result of pressure from blood vessels that are too close together, a condition known as congenital arteriovenous malformation. Johnson was born with the condition, he said.
"He underwent successful surgery to evacuate the blood and stabilize the malformation," Eisold said. "The senator is recovering without complication in the critical care unit. "It is premature to determine whether further surgery will be required or to assess any long-term prognosis."
Johnson's incapacitation raised questions about his seat in the Senate, where Democrats will hold a 51-49 edge in January. The party wrested both houses of Congress away from the Republicans in the November midterm election.
Should Johnson not be able to complete his term, which ends in 2008, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, could appoint his replacement. Such a move could shift the balance of power in the Senate.
The 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows states to choose how they replace a senator should he or she die or resign. In 43 states, including
South Dakota Secretary of State Chris Nelson said the appointment would fill the vacancy until a general election could be held in November 2008. There are no restrictions on whom the governor could appoint beyond meeting the legal requirements for Senate membership, Nelson said.
Although the definition of incapacitation is not spelled out in state law, Nelson said there would be "precedent at the federal level." One precedent, however, is the case of Sen. Karl Mundt, also from
He remained in office until January 1973, when his term expired. He offered to resign but only on the condition that the governor appoint his wife to fill the vacancy. The governor refused, and Mundt retained the Senate seat.
Referring to the question of what Johnson's condition will mean to the Senate, a Democratic leadership aide told CNN on Thursday that the Senate is "not changing hands any time soon." Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, also a South Dakotan, said as he was leaving the hospital that "it looks encouraging."
There's "no need" for Johnson to relinquish his seat, Daschle stressed.
Meanwhile, Johnson's wife, Barbara, issued a statement saying: "The Johnson family is encouraged and optimistic. They are grateful for the prayers and good wishes of friends, supporters and
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who visited Johnson on Thursday morning, told CNN that Johnson "looked very, very good."
He added, "We're praying and giving our best possible thoughts to him and his family." Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who will become House speaker in January, extended "warm wishes and prayers" to the Johnsons. Johnson served in the House 10 years before moving to the Senate.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, said the bleeding apparently is on the left side of Johnson's brain, the part responsible for speech and strength on the right side of the body.
The senator was in the Capitol conducting a conference call with
"This is frustrating," Johnson acknowledged toward the end of the call. Several factors can cause the tangle of arteries and veins to place pressure on the brain, Gupta said, including hypertension.
Johnson's recovery would depend on the exact location where the bleeding occurred. "We're talking about a long road here," to recovery, he said.
CNN's Ted Barrett and Dana Bash contributed to this report.
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