Democrat senator’s stroke shows fragility of 50-50 Senate majority

After news broke on Tuesday that New Mexico Senator Ben Ray Lujan suffered a stroke last week, there was obvious anxiety for a valued fellow senator and then his colleagues were relieved that he was expected to make a full recovery.

At 49, Luján is one of the Senate’s young men, but his sudden hospitalization, at least for the time being, has stripped him of most of the functions of Leader Chuck Schumer should he ever need to call. a short notice vote.

And it provides a preview of the more serious long-term effects for Democrats if even one of them becomes temporarily or permanently incapacitated. Thoughts of the fragility of the room’s fragile balance of power will flash across many minds Tuesday afternoon. The consideration is particularly acute as the Senate will soon begin considering President Joe Biden’s nominee to replace him. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. The renewed focus on the small margin of error available to Democrats in the confirmation process also underscores why so many progressives are so keen on Breyer to retire. They are desperate to assert a liberal justice while their Senate majority holds to avoid further consolidating the current 6-3 conservative majority on the high court.

Democrats believe they have a good chance of getting at least a few GOP votes to confirm Biden’s as-yet-unannounced candidacy that would give them some breathing space. But given the stark polarization in Washington, there is no doubt that tactical calculations could change if political winds change. Without the Republican vote, they would need all 50 Democratic senators to vote in person to support the nomination.

It is a good case that Democrats outside Washington and some in the House have not fully appreciated the complexities of working with a 50-50 Senate majority, requiring every Democrat to owner must form a simple majority, plus Vice President Kamala Harris’s discordant vote. Democrats have learned the hard way, after West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten SinemaEven moderate Democrats, blocked Biden’s broad climate and social spending program as well as efforts to change minor rules to reform election law.

Therefore, speed is of the essence for Democrats to avoid any mishaps with Supreme Court confirmation. Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois said Tuesday that Biden is hoping for a speedy confirmation process in about 40 days after he names his pick. If the President announces the nominees later this month, that could give Luján two months or more of convalescence before a final vote if needed.

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Schumer was quick to quash speculation about the resilience of the Democratic majority and was quick to say that the priority was for Luján to recover. “We are all grateful that he will make a full recovery,” the New York Democrat told reporters, before sending a message to calm the Democrats’ nerves.

“We wish him a speedy return to the Senate and I believe the Senate will be able to continue its business,” Schumer said.

Several of Luján’s other colleagues also emphasized that he is expected to make a full recovery and will be back with them soon.

“I think it’s important that all of us in this business really put this location first,” said Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico. “My hope is that Ben Ray will put himself first in the next two weeks.”

Elderly Senate raises concerns among Democrats

A sudden reminder of mortality in any workplace can cause anxiety. And given the enormous political implications of the Senate’s fragile balance of power and the advanced age of incumbents, such shocks are particularly reverberating on Capitol Hill.

According to a recent update Congressional Research Service Reportedly, the average age of the current Senate is 64.3 years old. But many of the most powerful Democrats are in their 70s and 80s. Even concerned hints about something amiss about a senator’s health alarm Washington. This was the case when Senator Patrick Leahy briefly visited the hospital after feeling unwell a year ago. Vermonter, 81, who holds the post of enthusiastically Senate president, has since said he will not run for re-election. And California Senator Dianne Feinstein, 88, emphasized she is well enough to continue for a term that lasts until 2024 after a New Yorker article in late 2020 raised questions about her competence.
Manchin says Build Back Better & # 39;  dead & # 39;  when talks stalled on Biden's agenda

In the event Feinstein leaves before the end of his term, Democratic Governor of California Gavin Newsom could choose a replacement, and he said he would choose a black woman. Leahy’s state, Vermont, where the GOP governor is located, has a tradition of appointing an interim replacement from the same party as an outgoing senator. States have different rules about naming alternate senators and interim seat holders and about calling special elections. But it is not impossible that a Democratic senator forced to resign or die will be replaced, at least for a short time, by a Republican governor in a way that transfers majority control to GOP.

Even if that doesn’t happen, things are tough enough for Schumer as he tries to figure out how to revive Biden’s Build Back Better plan and somehow keep the battle for voting reform going. exist. Before Luján’s status became known, several brief episodes encapsulated the Democratic conundrum.

Asked if he had held talks with Democrats about the Build Back Better plan, Manchin replied Tuesday: “No, no, no, no. It’s dead.” After that, the West Virginian said that anything done would have to be structured differently from the latest failed version of Biden’s key bill. “You always start from zero,” he said, although Schumer later insisted that he fought hard to get as much out of the plan as he could. Previous drafts include free pre-K tuition and increased home health care for aging Americans as well as half a billion dollars in climate spending.

How majors can change midterm

The confrontation with Manchin underscores the need for Democrats to act quickly on their priorities as they are not necessarily guaranteed to keep a slim majority until the next Congress is elected in an election. midterm in November.

If they fall behind Republicans in the Senate seat tally, it wouldn’t be the first time the majority party has lost its edge. In 2001, then-Republican Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont became a 50-50 Senate independent and met with Democrats, making South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle the Democratic majority leader and stalling the agenda. the domestic involvement of President George W. Bush in the process.
But that movie pales in comparison toe 83rd Congress when nine senators died in office, leading to a revolving alternative door as the two parties had the most Senate seats respectively. In early 1954, then-Democratic Minority Leader Lyndon Johnson decided not to press for a reorganization of the Senate under Democratic control. The future president has wielded enormous power as a minority leader and is overcoming some of his priorities by teaming up with the prominent Republican administration of President Dwight Eisenhower. Johnson’s bipartisan authority impressed voters and Democrats won narrow control after the 1954 midterm elections, making him the majority leader.

Such a scenario is more unlikely in today’s polarized age, when differences are more clearly defined by the affiliation of parties than it was in Johnson’s day, when coalitions were often forged on Ideological and geographical differences span both sides. The idea that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would give up his chance to take power again is unthinkable.

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