NBC Newschannel's Steve Handelsman hears that Johnson is talking this morning. NBC's Donna Inserra reports that per Johnson's office, he was in the Senate recording studio yesterday talking to South Dakota media when his speech pattern changed, but he recovered and then walked back to his office. He then said he didn't feel very well, a Capitol physician did a quick check, and he was put in a wheelchair and taken to George Washington University Hospital. Johnson's wife happened to be coming to the Capitol for something unrelated yesterday and accompanied him in the ambulance. Reid spent much of yesterday at the hospital and was expected to go back last night.
NBC's Pete Williams notes that Rounds isn't required to fill a vacancy with a Democrat just because Johnson is one. Has it happened that the governor has appointed someone from a different party to fill a vacancy? Secretary of State Chris Nelson tells Williams, "It's been a long time since a vacancy has been filled this way... We're not sure." Here's what the state law says, per Williams: "Temporary appointment by Governor to fill vacancy in United States Senate. Pursuant to the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, the Governor may fill by temporary appointment, until a special election is held pursuant to this chapter, vacancies in the office of senator in the Senate of the United States. The statute contains no partisan limitation."
The Sioux Falls Argus Leader says, "Rounds did not comment on the matter, but he does have a history to suggest he might make such a move. In 2002, after Democratic state Sen. Dick Hagen of Pine Ridge died, Rounds appointed a Republican to replace him."
The Senate Historian's office cites several examples of a Senator being incapacitated for years and remaining in office, NBC's Doug Adams notes. Most recently, Sen. Karl Mundt (also from South Dakota) suffered a stroke in 1969 and was incapacitated but refused to step down. He remained in office until January 1973, when his term expired. Mundt was pressured repeatedly to step down during his illness, but he demanded that the governor promise to appoint his wife. The governor refused, and Mundt remained in office. Another example was Democratic Sen. Carter Glass of Virginia (and of the Glass-Steagle Act). Glass had a heart condition that prevented him from working for most of his last term after his re-election in 1942. Yet he refused to resign and finally passed away from congestive heart failure in May 1946.
The New York Times: According to information from the Senate Historian cited on CQ.com, at least nine Senators have taken extended absences from the Senate for health reasons since 1942. "Robert F. Wagner, Democrat of New York, was unable to attend any sessions of the 80th or 81st Congress from 1947 to 1949 because of a heart ailment. Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, missed about seven months in 1988 after surgery for a brain aneurysm. And David Pryor, Democrat of Arkansas, suffered a heart attack in April 1991 and returned to the Senate in September that year."
The Chicago Tribune: "Many members of Congress have stayed in office in spite of fragile health, including the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, a South Carolina Republican who held office beyond his 100th birthday. Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.) has suffered from Parkinson's disease for years and went for several months this year without casting a vote."
"The only time that partisan control of the Senate changed in mid-session, historians say, was in 2001," the Washington Post notes. "Republicans began the year controlling the 50-50 chamber with Cheney's tie-breaking vote." When control did change, it was because of party-switching Sen. Jim Jeffords. "Senate Republican sources said yesterday that their party is likely to press for similar concessions when negotiating the operating rules for the next Congress. But even if Johnson were incapacitated, Democratic aides say, they would resist."
Bloomberg says, "Johnson is one of 26 Democratic senators whose death or incapacity would jeopardize Democratic control of the chamber because their successor would be appointed by a Republican governor. That number will fall to 18 in January when the governorships of Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York switch to Democratic from Republican control."