Thursday, December 14, 2006

One Senator, One Medical Crisis,
At Least Three News Stories

Sen. Tim Johnson's medical crisis, which began yesterday when he was rushed to the hospital with stroke-like symptoms, has now become three stories. The first, of course, is the ongoing news about Johnson's condition:

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) underwent emergency surgery overnight to repair bleeding inside his brain and was "recovering without complication" this morning, according to the U.S. Capitol physician.
Johnson "was found to have had an intracerebral bleed caused by a congenital arteriovenous malformation," Adm. John Eisold, attending physician of the U.S. Capitol, said in a statement issued by the senator's office shortly after 9 a.m. today. "He underwent successful surgery to evacuate the blood and stabilize the malformation." Eisold said it was too early to offer a long-term prognosis.
The two-term senator was rushed to the hospital early yesterday afternoon, shortly after becoming disoriented during a conference call with news reporters. He underwent "a comprehensive evaluation by the stroke team," his office said, and eventually was diagnosed with the brain hemorrhage, the severity of which has not yet been announced to the public.

Arteriovenous malformations are defects of the circulatory system, essentially tangles of snarled arteries and veins, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. They are believed to develop soon after birth, or in utero, and in many cases can exist for years -- in the brain or elsewhere -- causing few, if any, problems.

But for about 12 percent of people with neurological malformations, or an estimated 36,000 Americans, the abnormalities can cause a wide range of symptoms, according to a fact sheet posted on the institute's Web site. The symptoms can include severe headaches, seizures, muscle weakness or paralysis, memory loss, dizziness, loss of coordination, eye problems, abnormal sensations such as numbness and "mental confusion, hallucinations or dementia." In rare cases, the disorder can result in death.

The second story is in those ellipses:

Johnson, 59, who is in the critical care unit at George Washington University Hospital, fell ill at the Capitol yesterday, introducing a note of uncertainty over control of the Senate just weeks before Democrats are to take over with a one-vote margin.
Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who is set to become Senate majority leader when the new Congress convenes in January, told reporters later that Johnson "really looks good" and that nothing has changed as far as Democratic control of the new Senate is concerned.
Asked whether Johnson would be able to serve in the Senate, Reid said, "There isn't a thing that's changed. The Republicans selected their committees yesterday. We've completed ours." He said he has a "very busy schedule today going ahead and getting ready for the next year." Reid also said he has kept Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the incoming Republican leader in the Senate, "totally advised of everything that's going on."
Johnson's illness -- which sent Reid rushing to the hospital to check on Johnson -- underscored the fragility of Democrats' hold on the next Senate, which they won by the narrowest of margins in the Nov. 7 elections. Should Johnson die in office or decide not to serve out his term, South Dakota's Republican governor, Michael Rounds, would name a replacement for the next two years.

Under Senate practice, there is no mechanism to remove senators who become incapacitated. In the past, some have been allowed to keep their seats despite being unable to attend sessions or cast votes for months or even years.
With Johnson in office, Democrats would hold a 51-to-49 edge in the Senate that convenes Jan. 4 as part of the 110th Congress. (The two independents have said they will caucus with the Democrats.) But if he is to leave office before then and Rounds replaces him with a Republican, the GOP would control the chamber.

In a 50-50 Senate, Vice President Cheney could break tie votes in the GOP's favor. But a Senate that becomes evenly split after it is in session would not necessarily fall to Republicans, Senate historians said. Rules and precedents could leave a party in charge of the chamber even after its membership falls below that of the other party.

"It's what happens in January that counts," said Senate associate historian Donald A. Ritchie, referring to when party leaders hash out rules governing the chamber's organization.

The third story is whether it's appropriate to discuss the political consequences of Sen. Johnson's medical crisis when he is still alive and fighting to stay that way.

Noel Sheppard:

Ladies and Gentlemen, let's drop the partisanship for a second and recognize that the media coverage of Sen. Tim Johnson's (D-SD) sudden illness has been nothing but disgraceful.

The first reports I heard on this issue came early yesterday on CNBC, and immediately the discussion was about how this could change the balance of power in the Senate. I was disgusted. ...

As my daughter and I left the gym in the early evening, she questioned me about the Senator, and how this would impact politics. I was a bit shocked, and asked her where she had heard about his malady. She said that it was on the television in the ladies' locker room, and the announcers were discussing how this might hurt the Democrats.

Let's get a grip for a second here, folks. A man is fighting for his life right now, and that should be much more important than how this impacts who will control the Senate. Yet, just moments ago, this was the headline of an Associated Press article: "GOP governor has the power to appoint Senate replacement." These were the first two paragraphs:

Control of the U.S. Senate could be determined by Republican Gov. Mike Rounds if a replacement must be named for Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson.

State law would allow the governor to appoint a temporary replacement for a vacant Senate seat until the next general election in 2008, when Johnson's term expires.

How disgraceful. Our thoughts and prayers should be going out to this man and his family without any discussion about the balance of power ... unless we really have lost all sense of decency, morality, and humanity in this country.

Get well soon, Senator!


... Please. No one wants the guy to die. The fact is, his absence from the Senate could have momentous political consequences. Asking people who cover politics for a living not to so much as acknowledge the elephant in the room is silly.

Steve Benen:

Just a quick word about the politics of all of this. I hope that it's obvious that Johnson's well-being is of the utmost significance, and I'm sure everyone [...] extends their best wishes to the senator and his family. I suppose at a certain level, that could be the end of it, and political implications would be irrelevant, but that's just not the case. He's an important political figure in an important political time, and it's only natural that observers consider the political consequences associated with his illness. That's not callous or placing partisanship above people, that's just a recognition of the political environment in which we operate.

Considering "what happens next" seems to me to be a perfectly normal reaction to the circumstances.

Actually, there may be a fourth story, too: the hypocrisy of the left, blaming the right for being insensitive, when really it's everyone in the media being insensitive, and since everyone knows the media has a liberal bias anyway, it's really the left being insensitive.

Two examples of this -- the sarcastic:

We're All Praying the Repukes Don't Take Over the Senate. Oh, and Good Luck With That Stroke Thing, Too

And the unbearable, endless whining:

Johnson is still in critical condition, but something else in critical condition for much different reasons is the reaction from the usual suspects on the far left on how the media has framed Johnson's health almost from the word go in terms of how it could impact the Senate. While I join those on the left and right in condemning the MSM for how they came out of the gate last night with reports on how his condition could affect the balance of the Senate come January, I'm a bit mystified as to the far left's attempts today to try and paint the media as a tool of the right simply because they are writing about what this means in terms of what the future may hold for the make-up of the Senate. Check out some posts from some of the lefty blogs at Memeorandum and you’ll see what I mean.
By my count, we've got one very popular far lefty blog insinuating that the entire MSM are "celebrating" over the possibility of Johnson being too ill to serve as of [sic] the entire MSM were conservatively biased (and we know they're not) and two other popular far lefty blogs deliberately ignoring the fact that news outlets other than Fox are rampantly engaging in such speculation, as noted by the Google News link I provided, which I'll link up to once more.

I sincerely wish Senator Johnson a full, quick recovery. I also sincerely wish that the far lefties in the blogosphere would show a little more honesty on the issue of media coverage in terms of who is engaging in what as it relates to what's going on with Senator Tim Johnson. Ceasing the nonsense about how the entire MSM is "celebrating" a possible Johnson incapacitation would be helpful, too.

As a side note, I wonder how long it will be before some nut starts a conspiracy theory that Karl Rove (or some other evil right wing politico) had "something to do" with what happened to Johnson because they "couldn't take" that we'd lost both houses of Congress? Hey, it happened with Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone in 2002 and Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan in 2000 when he ran against John Ashcroft for the Senate (as a refresher, both died in plane crashes a few weeks before the elections), so why not this one, too? Never underestimate the power of a cooked up conspiracy theory from the Nutroots.

Or, as in this case, the power of a cooked-up conspiracy theory from the wingnuts, attributed to the nutroots.

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