A US senator was resting in 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 Lujan, 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 leaders 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.
“Early Thursday morning Senator Lujan began experiencing dizziness and fatigue,” his chief of staff Carlos Sanchez said in a statement.
“He checked himself into Christus St. Vincent Regional Hospital in Santa Fe. He was then transferred to UNM Hospital in Albuquerque for further evaluation.
“Senator Lujan 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.”
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 Lujan’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 Lujan were unable to return to work at all, Democratic New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham would appoint his replacement.
In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader Chuck 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 Lujan 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 shaky.
“I’m glad to hear my friend Senator Lujan is recovering,” New Jersey Democratic senator Cory Booker tweeted.
“Praying for him and his family as he gets back to full strength.”