US Democrats may lose Senate

The fate of Senator Tim Johnson, who was reportedly in critical condition, could cost the Democrats the one vote-majority gained in November’s legislative elections.

Johnson, 59, was admitted to George Washington University Hospital on
Wednesday after his speech faltered during a teleconference. He was diagnosed with bleeding in the brain from an inherited malformation.

Senator Johnson underwent “successful” emergency brain surgery early on Thursday at the hospital, said Congress’s attending physician, John Eisold, in a statement that said it was “premature” to give “any long-term prognosis.”

Later Mr Eisold said Senator Johnson was having an “uncomplicated post-operative course.”

“He has been appropriately responsive to both word and touch. No further surgical intervention has been required,” the physician said.

US media reported Johnson was in critical condition in an intensive care unit, but the hospital refused to comment on Johnson’s condition on grounds of patient confidentiality. The senator’s office also refused to comment.

The leading Democrat in the Senate, Harry Reid, said he had visited Johnson in his hospital room on Thursday morning and “he really looks good.” He did not say whether the senator was conscious.

The condition of the senator from South Dakota, a sparsely populated western state that rarely draws national interest, has Washington political circles buzzing.

Mr Johnson’s medical crisis comes weeks before a Democratic-led Congress is to convene in January. Democrats wrested control of the Senate and House of Representatives from President George W. Bush’s Republicans in November 7 legislative elections.

If Senator Johnson were to die or resign, the Republican governor of South Dakota would choose a replacement to serve the remaining two years of his six-year term.

The choice of a Republican lawmaker would give back to Republicans the majority they lost in November: each party would hold 50 seats, and Republican Vice President Dick Cheney would wield the tie-breaking vote.

That would leave only the House, where Democrats won 233 of its 435 seats, in a position to oppose the Bush administration, mainly through investigations, especially on the conduct of the war in Iraq.

Mr Reid, the incoming Senate leader, seemed to discount the possibility his party would lose its newfound majority in the senate. “There isn’t a thing that’s changed,” he said at a news briefing, saying that Democrats would continue to work through their agenda in coming months.

Republicans carefully avoided trying to capitalize on Senator Johnson’s illness.

“My expectation and hope is that Tim will recover fully and come back and we’ll go to work,” Republican Senator Trent Lott said on the Fox television network. “You know, I’d like to be in the majority, but I don’t want to do it that way.”

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Mr Johnson was “a great guy, and it’s one of these things where everybody’s concerned and our thoughts and prayers are with him, his family, his staff, his colleagues.”

Senator Johnson served five two-year terms in the House of Representatives, then was elected to the Senate in 1996 and re-elected in 2002.

He was named the incoming chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, and is to hold seats on the Senate’s appropriations, energy, commerce and banking panels.

Bono prods Congress

Rock star and activist Bono has met with incoming Democratic leaders of the US Congress in his bid to increase awareness about the world fight against AIDS and poverty.

House of Representatives Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi and incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid met with Bono to discuss the importance of increased funding for global AIDS and poverty initiatives, the lawmakers’ offices said in a joint statement.

The Irish singer, an untiring advocate of boosting rich nations’ participation in the fight against disease and poverty, went to the White House in February to ask President George W Bush for more US aid to end world poverty.

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