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Senator Johnson in critical condition after surgery

“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.”
— Dr. John Eisold, the Capitol physician, contradicting Johnson’s spokesperson Julianne Fisher, who told reporters the South Dakota senator had “suffered neither a stroke nor a heart attack.”

Our thoughts go out to the Senator’s family; this has to be devastating.

I’m still trying to figure out why his flack tried to insist that he didn’t have a stroke when it was clear from the symptoms — mumbled, halted speech and disorientation in a teleconference call Johnson was on, then a short recovery and then inability to speak later in his office, which caused staff to call the ambulance — that this was likely. At best, there shouldn’t have been any statement from a non-medical person about his condition to begin with. (CNN):

There was no formal announcement of the South Dakota senator’s condition, The Associated Press reported, but a person in the hospital’s media relations office, who declined to be identified, said the hospital was preparing to announce that Johnson’s condition was critical.

Fisher said the senator was able to walk back to his office in the Hart Senate Office Building, then began having problems with his right arm. He thought he was all right, she said, and went to his desk, but came out a few minutes later and “it was apparent he needed help.” Staffers put him on a couch in the office and called the Capitol doctor, she said. He was taken to the hospital shortly afterward. His wife, in the office to have lunch with him, rode with him, Fisher said.

The fact that they rushed him into the hospital at the first signs of trouble early is good, but I’m sure they cannot possibly know the extent of brain damage at this point after surgery.

Last night on Olbermann, they were discussing what happens if Johnson were to be incapacitated versus passing away; the scenario in the former is that Johnson could remain in office, even if inactive. As Karen in Kalifornia noted in the first thread on this, the last time this occurred about 40 years ago (ironically, in South Dakota), the senator asked that his wife be appointed, the governor refused, and the senator  “served” out his term, missing all votes.

In the CNN article, there is a different view from the S.D. Secretary of State.

Although the issue of incapacitation is not spelled out in state law, South Dakota Secretary of State Chris Nelson said he believes there would be “precedent at the federal level.”

Nelson said an appointment would fill the vacancy until a general election could be held in November 2008. There are no restrictions on who the governor can appoint, beyond meeting the legal requirements for Senate membership, he said.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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