December 14, 2006
Senator Tim Johnson and the Balance of PowerHe underwent brain surgery:
Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota was undergoing brain surgery early Thursday at George Washington University Hospital after suffering stroke-like symptoms, two Democratic sources familiar with his condition told CNN.I hope he comes out of this okay but even if he does, it sounds serious enough that he might need a long time to recuperate.
Given the Democrats' razor thin 51-49 majority in the Senate, speculation as to how this could tip the balance of power is unavoidable.
If Senator Johnson has to resign for health reasons, South Dakota's Republican governor Mike Rounds can appoint his replacement. The replacement, who will certainly be Republican, holds the seat until a special election can be held. According to South Dakota statutes, that special election coincides with the next general election, which is November, 2008.
That means that for most of the 110th Congress, the Senate will be tied 50-50 with Dick Cheney holding the tie breaking vote.
However, MSNBC notes this potential twist:
The appointment would last until the next general election — in this case, 2008. Johnson's term expires that year.There is no way to predict if Tim Johnson would refuse to resign as it obviously depends on how serious his condition is, but with the majority rule of the Senate at stake, this is one possible scenario.
Two other possible scenarios were noted by the Post.
The only time that partisan control of the Senate changed in mid-session, historians say, was in 2001. Republicans began the year controlling the 50-50 chamber with Cheney's tie-breaking vote. But Democrats, mindful of the recent sudden death of Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.), were aware they could be a heartbeat away from the majority.Two:
A different scenario unfolded in 1954, after the deaths and replacements of several senators over two years. Republicans remained the majority party even though Democrats eventually outnumbered them, 48 to 47, with one independent. Democratic leader Lyndon B. Johnson did not challenge the GOP's control, in part, historians said, because the independent, Wayne L. Morse of Oregon, warned that he would caucus with the Republicans if need be. That would have led to a 48-48 chamber, and Vice President Richard M. Nixon would have broken the tie in Republicans' favor.In short, it's only a matter of whether Republicans will demand concessions and whether Democrats will resist or concede.
Either way, the majority rule of the Senate hangs precariously in the balance, with one member holding that crucial leverage. And the person who holds it?
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