A sudden health emergency for a Democrat U.S. senator has put President Joe Biden’s agenda in limbo.
According to the Digital Journal, New Mexico Sen. Ben Ray Lujan suffered a stroke last week and had to be hospitalized. The 49-year-old senator underwent brain surgery to reduce swelling and remained in the hospital as of Wednesday.
“Early Thursday morning Senator Lujan began experiencing dizziness and fatigue,” his chief of staff Carlos Sanchez said according to the Journal. “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.”
Lujan’s office did not give a clear timetable for his return to the Senate. However, similar health emergencies to past senators have kept them out of action for as long as a year.
When Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson suffered a brain bleed in 2006, he was absent from the Senate for nine months, according to the Journal. Johnson was 59 at the time of the incident.
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk was sidelined for a full year after he had a stroke in 2012 at the age of 52.
Lujan’s situation is particularly relevant given the Democrats’ slim majority in the Senate. Currently, votes are split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote in favor of the Democrats.
Unlike in the House of Representatives, members of the Senate must be present to vote, the Journal reported. This means that as long as Lujan is out, the Democrats no longer hold the majority of the vote.
One of Biden’s largest agenda items is finding a way to pass his Build Back Better social spending bill. On Monday, The Hill reported the Biden administration was poised to re-open negotiations with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin in an attempt to pass the bill.
Yet with no sign of Republican support for the massive spending spree, the Democrats would almost certainly not be able to pass the bill until Lujan’s return.
Another agenda item for Biden is nominating a Supreme Court justice to replace Stephen Breyer. While that process is not as certain to be halted by Lujan’s absence, it does become more complicated.
Without Lujan, Biden would need to nominate a candidate who could win support from at least one Republican senator. The most likely pick to garner this support would be U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.
According to Forbes, Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina voted to confirm Jackson to the appeals court last year. This would suggest they may support her nomination to the Supreme Court.
In a recent appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Graham also said he would support the nomination of South Carolina Federal District Judge J. Michelle Childs, whom Biden has named as a potential candidate.
“Here’s what I’ll tell him and the nation, I — I can’t think of a better person for President Biden to consider for the Supreme Court than Michelle Childs,” Graham said according to a transcript.
“She has wide support in our state. She’s considered to be a fair minded, highly gifted jurist. She’s one of the most decent people I’ve ever met.”
Given these facts, it seems Biden still has options to get a Supreme Court nominee confirmed, even if Lujan does not return before the 2022 midterm elections. However, Biden may be restricted from picking a more radical candidate because of his need for Republican support.
While Biden’s agenda for the next nine months is not completely derailed, Lujan’s health emergency certainly throws a wrench into the administration’s plans. The main concern right now, though, should be praying for Lujan’s full recovery.
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