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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Democratic US senator’s stroke threatens Biden agenda

As he recovers, Democrats effectively lose their advantage in the Senate, which was split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris wielding the tie-breaking vote.

(AFP) — A U.S. senator was resting in a hospital Wednesday after suffering a stroke from which he is expected to recover fully, although it threatens to throw the Democrats' agenda into disarray until his return.

Ben Ray Luján, 49, underwent brain surgery to relieve swelling late last week and remains hospitalized, his office said, with no clear timetable for how long he will be sidelined. 

As he recovers, Democrats effectively lose their advantage in the Senate, which was split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris wielding the tie-breaking vote.

Unlike in the House, senators must vote in person. 

Party rank-and-file fear that advancing White House priorities such as a stalled social spending bill and confirming a Supreme Court justice on a party-line vote may now prove complicated. 

A brain bleed in 2006 took Democrat Tim Johnson out of Senate action for around nine months when he was 59 years old, while Republican Mark Kirk's stroke in 2012 laid him low for a full year at age 52. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer paid tribute to "one of the most beloved members of this body" and said senators were rooting for the freshman member from New Mexico "every step of the way." 

"In the days to come we will continue working and communicating with Senator Luján's staff about his recovery process, and all of us are hopeful and optimistic that he will be back to his old self before long," Schumer said on the Senate floor. 

"In the meantime, the U.S. Senate will continue to move forward in carrying out its business on behalf of the American people."

– ‘Decompressive surgery’ –

Luján's chief of staff Carlos Sanchez said in a statement the senator began experiencing dizziness and fatigue on Thursday last week and checked himself into hospital. 

"Senator Luján was found to have suffered a stroke in the cerebellum, affecting his balance. As part of his treatment plan, he subsequently underwent decompressive surgery to ease swelling," Sanchez said.

President Joe Biden said he expects to announce his nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer by the end of this month and has vowed to pick a Black woman.

The first Senate confirmation hearings would not likely take place until several weeks later, with a vote expected in late March at the earliest.

But Biden would need at least one Republican vote if Luján's recovery takes more than a few weeks.

Ketanji Brown Jackson, the early favorite to replace Breyer, won support from three Republican senators last year when she moved up to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

If Luján were unable to return to work at all, Democratic New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham would appoint his replacement. 

In the meantime, Schumer will likely focus on judicial nominations or legislation with clear cross-party backing. 

A government funding deal or a Russian sanctions package would likely be unaffected, but without Luján the planned resurrection of the divisive Build Back Better social welfare package appears dead in the water. 

And the prospects for legislation aimed at ending supply chain woes and countering competition from China in the next month are also on shaky ground.


© Agence France-Presse

Categories / Government, Politics

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