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Senate control
still with Democrats as Johnson recovers

Senate control
still with Democrats as Johnson recovers


South Dakota Democratic senator Tim Johnson (pictured) won't be present as the new Congress convenes next week, but he is continuing to improve after undergoing emergency surgery to repair a brain hemorrhage.

Julianne Fisher, a spokeswoman for South Dakota Democratic senator Tim Johnson, said Johnson won't be present in the first days of the new Congress next week but that he is continuing to improve two weeks after he had emergency surgery to repair a brain hemorrhage that has left him in critical condition. Johnson, who turned 60 on Thursday, is responsive to directions from his wife but has not yet spoken, Fisher said, adding that it's too early to tell how long recovery will take.

The senator's sudden illness raised questions about the Democrats' one-vote majority in the upcoming Senate session. South Dakota's Republican governor, Mike Rounds, would appoint a replacement if Johnson's seat were vacated by his death or resignation.

A Republican appointee would create a 50-50 tie and effectively allow the GOP to retain Senate control because of Vice President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote. But there is ample precedent for senators to continue to hold office while incapacitated.

In a statement Thursday, Johnson's doctors said he remains in intensive care at George Washington University Hospital. They have released few new details about Johnson's condition and prognosis since the days after the December 13 surgery to stop bleeding in his brain.

Vivek Deshmukh, head of Johnson's surgical team, said in a statement that the South Dakota senator's overall condition has improved and that he is gradually being weaned off sedation to help his brain heal. The statement said Johnson is expected to undergo more tests in coming days.

Johnson's wife, Barbara, said her husband ''continues to give us great hope'' and that two of the couple's three grown children were at the hospital to be with him on his birthday. ''While we were both looking forward to celebrating his 60th birthday with our family and friends, I know the celebration is just postponed,'' she said.

Johnson was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, a condition often present from birth that causes arteries and veins to grow abnormally large, become tangled, and sometimes burst. He was rushed to the hospital after becoming disoriented on a call with reporters and had surgery hours later.

Keith Siller, director of the Comprehensive Stroke Care Center at New York University Medical Center and assistant professor at the NYU School of Medicine, said it is unusual for a patient to be sedated after brain surgery for more than a few days. ''The two-week period is longer than I would be happy with,'' he said. (AP)

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