December 14, 2006


As a Senator Is Felled, A January Vote Looms Big: If Sen. Tim Johnson is incapacitated, control of the Senate could be determined by a usually routine "organizing resolution" early next month (KAREN TUMULTY, 12/14/06, TIME)

The incapacitation of South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson has put all eyes in Washington on what is normally a little-noticed Senate vote now scheduled for Jan. 4. It is called the "organizing resolution," and is the bit of internal housekeeping that determines how committee memberships will be allotted between the two parties, as well as who will get to serve as chairman and ranking members of each of the panels. These resolutions traditionally stand until the next Congress, even if the makeup of the chamber shifts to put the other party in the majority, which is why precedent would seem to dictate that the Chamber would stay in Democratic hands, even if Johnson is replaced by a Republican.

But don't count on it this time. Even if Johnson ultimately recovers from the congenital blood disorder known as arteriovenous malformation, which required emergency surgery Wednesday night, it now looks highly unlikely that he will healthy enough to vote on Jan. 4. With Johnson unable to vote, Democrats still have enough votes to win, with 50 votes (including the two independent Senators, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont) to 49 for the Republicans. But Democrats now fear the real possibility that Republicans will filibuster that resolution. They could insist — just as the Democrats did after the 2000 election that left the chamber evenly split, with Vice President Dick Cheney as the tie-breaker and one Republican Senator seriously ill — on an "out clause" that stipulates that control of the chamber goes to them if they somehow manage to achieve a majority during the course of the session.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 14, 2006 3:11 PM

For many Republicans, politics is "beanbag".

They will be cowed by the MSM and Dems never are (as most MSM is for them anyway).

Republicans won't filibuster anything, even up to Hillary nominating Deval Patrick to the Supreme Ct.

Posted by: Bruno at December 14, 2006 3:38 PM

When I heard about Senator Johnson, I was reminded of Paul Coverdell's sudden death in 1998. While the Senate didn't change as a result, Trent Lott's stewardship as Majority Leader began to ebb away without Coverdell (something Lott admits to this day).

I doubt if the GOP filibusters the organizing resolution, but if Johnson resigns (or is obviously unable to serve) before Jan. 4, there will be a lot of pressure to replace him immediately. And if he can't vote at all, will Schumer and Reid demand that they be allowed to vote for him? Watch for that claim next.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 14, 2006 4:18 PM

" now looks highly unlikely that he (Johnson) will healthy enough to vote on Jan. 4"

Living in Cook County, I know that a Democrat is ALWAYS well enough to vote even if they are dead or are dead but just haven't fallen over yet. Just ask John Stroger, the former county board president. He'd tell you that too, if he was able to speak anymore.

Posted by: Rick T. at December 14, 2006 4:33 PM

You do have to love how the Dems scraping for every petty tactical advantage does have a tendency be a strategic loss. Couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch.

Ideally, Bush should take this opportunity to get Lieberman into his cabinet, as his replacement would also be GOP appointed. Then Johnson could resign without pressure from his party to pull a "Mundt", and neither blamed for "ceding control" to the GOP.

But imagine if Johnson does try a Mundt: A party that plays "hardball" would seize every time there is a Dem missing to force organizational votes. Make the Dem Senators sleep in the halls or lose their precious "power". But the Stupid Party would never play that rough, so I expect a "bipartisan spirt of accomodation" instead.

(And replacing Coverdell with a Dem (Miller?) does set a nice precedent for telling those Dems, already whining about how the GOP Gov. has to play fair and appoint a Dem, to shut up. Live by the precedent, die by the precedent.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at December 14, 2006 5:33 PM