Democrat Is Back in Senate After Stroke

Absence had threatened to complicate the Supreme Court confirmation vote for his party
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 2, 2022 6:53 AM CST
Updated Mar 3, 2022 6:37 PM CST
Dem Senator's Stroke Imperils SCOTUS Nominee
Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-NM, is seen during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on Sept. 30, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Update: Sen. Ben Ray Lujan received a bipartisan standing ovation when he walked into a committee meeting Thursday. The New Mexico Democrat had been gone a month after suffering a major stroke. Lujan told reporters he's "back to work" and plans to be fully involved in the job; he cast votes in committee Thursday. With the Senate evenly divided, Democrats were especially pleased by Lujan's return. "In a world with not a lot of good news, that was a great way to start the day," Sen. Richard Blumenthal said. "We needed the vote. In very crass, practical terms, we needed him there." Our original story from Feb. 2 follows:

US Sen. Ben Ray Lujan had a stroke last week and is now hospitalized after brain surgery, his office revealed on Tuesday. Carlos Sanchez, Lujan's chief of staff, says in a statement the 49-year-old was feeling fatigued and dizzy on Thursday, and that when doctors examined him, it was found he'd suffered a stroke in his cerebellum. "In the spectrum of strokes, this is an unusual type of stroke," health expert Dr. Barry Ramo tells KOAT, noting it took place in a part of the brain that affects one's coordination, vision, speech, and movement. Lujan had decompressive surgery to reduce swelling and is "expected to make a full recovery," per Sanchez, but a new issue has now arisen: Lujan will likely be absent from DC for some time as he recovers, which could put in danger an easy, quick party-line confirmation—with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote—for whichever Supreme Court nominee President Biden eventually offers.

The conundrum "exposes [the] fragility" of the Democrats' 50-50 majority in the Senate, with a "preview of more serious long-term implications" for Dems, per CNN. Adding to the concern over this is that many powerful Dems in the Senate are getting up there in years, and having just one of them knocked out of commission by health or other issues could throw Democrats' plans into disarray on not only the Supreme Court pick, but on other items on their agenda as well. Still, due to Lujan's relatively young age and good health, doctors and colleagues in Washington seem optimistic he'll be back in no time.

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"We look forward to his quick return to the Senate and I believe the Senate will be able to carry forward with its business," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday. If Biden selects a nominee by the end of February and keeps to a rapid confirmation process of about 40 days, as he hopes to, that would give Lujan a couple of months to work his way back to health, which remains the main concern. "It's really easy for all of us in this business to put this place first," Sen. Martin Heinrich, also from New Mexico, says. "My hope is that Ben Ray will put himself first." NBC News notes that if Lujan isn't able to head back to Capitol Hill, Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham would appoint his replacement. (More senator stories.)

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