- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2006

1:51 p.m.

Sen. Tim Johnson, South Dakota Democrat, was in critical condition recovering from emergency brain surgery today, creating political drama over whether his illness could cost Democrats newly won control of the Senate.

Mr. Johnson, 59, suffered from bleeding in the brain caused by a congenital malformation, the U.S. Capitol physician said. He described the surgery as successful.

The condition, usually present at birth, causes tangled blood vessels that can burst.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he had visited Mr. Johnson in the hospital this morning and that he was confident of a full recovery.

Asked about whether Democratic control of the Senate might be jeopardized, Mr. Reid said, “There isn’t a thing that’s changed.”

Mr. Reid refused to comment on Mr. Johnson’s medical condition, declining even to answer a question about whether the senator was conscious. “To me he looked very good,” Mr. Reid said.

Democrats hold a fragile 51-49 margin in the new Senate that is to convene Jan. 4. If Mr. Johnson leaves the Senate, the Republican governor of South Dakota could appoint a Republican to fill the remaining two years of Mr. Johnson’s term — keeping the Senate in Republican hands with Vice President Dick Cheney’s tie-breaking power.

Mr. Johnson was taken to the hospital yesterday after becoming disoriented during a conference phone call with reporters. He answered questions normally at first but then began to stutter. He paused, then continued stammering before appearing to recover and ending the call.

“The senator is recovering without complication,” said Adm. John Eisold, the Capitol physician. “It is premature to determine whether further surgery will be required or to assess any long-term prognosis.”

Dr. Eisold said doctors drained the blood that had accumulated in Mr. Johnson’s brain and stopped continued bleeding.

Mr. Johnson’s condition, also known as AVM, or arteriovenous malformation, causes arteries and veins to grow abnormally large and become tangled.

The condition is believed to affect about 300,000 Americans, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The institute’s Web site says only about 12 percent of the people with the condition experience symptoms, which range in severity. It kills about 3,000 people a year.

The senator’s wife, Barbara Johnson, said the family “is encouraged and optimistic.”

In a statement from Mr. Johnson’s office today, she said her family was “grateful for the prayers and good wishes of friends, supporters and South Dakotans.”

A person familiar with Mr. Johnson’s situation said surgery began late yesterday and ended about 12:30 a.m. today and that the next 24 to 48 hours would be critical in determining Mr. Johnson’s condition. The person spoke on condition of anonymity out of respect for the senator’s family.

If Mr. Johnson were forced to relinquish his seat, a replacement would be named by South Dakota’s Republican Gov. Michael Rounds.

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

However, Senate historian Don Ritchie said senators serve out their terms unless they resign or die. Nine senators have remained in the Senate even though illnesses kept them away from the chamber for six months or more.

Mr. Rounds’ press secretary, Mark Johnston, said today the governor had nothing new to say. “We’re watching as much as everyone else,” he said.

The governor, elected to a second four-year term last month, has been seen widely as the Republican candidate with the best chance to challenge Mr. Johnson in two years.

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