50-50 in US Senate?


Democratic US Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota has suffered a stroke. The Republican Governor, Mike Rounds, will have to appoint a replacement if Johnson dies, or perhaps even if a judge rules that Johnson is permanently incapacitated.

If Johnson is unable to serve, and is replaced between now and January with a Republican — the Senate will be 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. Tie votes are broken by the President of the Senate.

Since the Vice-President is the President of the Senate, Mr. Dick Cheney, control of the Senate will revert to the Republican Party.

We may be about to see how ugly partisan politics can get.

Update: OK, it appears that it was a false alarm, and he’s not in fact a stroke victim. Nor did senator Johnson have a heart attack. We don’t know what he did have, since his office isn’t saying, but at least he’s not dead.

There is a long-standing precedent in the Senate that a senator can take a leave of absence for medical reasons while remaining a senator; it happened nine times during the second half of the twentieth century. So just removing him because he can’t attend sessions isn’t really an option; it would take a court to declare him legally incompetent, and that would be a tough row to hoe.

All the same, if he didn’t show up, it would still be 49-49 in the Senate, and the Republican vice-president would cast the deciding vote.

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