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Sen. Johnson Resting, Remains Critical

By MARY CLARE JALONICK
The Associated Press
Saturday, December 16, 2006; 4:51 PM

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., was in critical condition Saturday and resting from brain surgery. In South Dakota, the governor said people were standing behind the stricken lawmaker and he urged patience during Johnson's recovery.

"At this point, no news is good news," said the senator's spokesman, Noah Pinegar.

Johnson had a brain hemorrhage Wednesday, weeks before Democrats are to take over the Senate with a one-vote majority.

GOP Gov. Mike Rounds, who would appoint a replacement if Johnson were to leave office, said, "It just happens that we have one of our friends, one of our colleagues, who is going through a tough time. When that happens, we stand by him. And that's exactly what the people of South Dakota will do," Rounds spoke to reporters before delivering the winter commencement address at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, Johnson's home town.

Johnson's condition has appeared to improve since the surgery at the George Washington University Hospital. Johnson has responded to voices, opened his eyes and moved his limbs.

Johnson, 59, had emergency surgery late Wednesday after being rushed to the hospital from his office. The surgery relieved pressure on the brain and stopped the bleeding.

Surgeons said in a statement Friday that the senator was experiencing post-surgery swelling in his brain, but they said that was normal.

Johnson's doctors also disclosed that when he arrived at the hospital, Johnson felt weakness on his right side. That condition probably will require physical therapy as part of his recovery.

He has been diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, a condition that causes arteries and veins to grow abnormally large, become tangled and sometimes burst. The condition often is present from birth.

A Republican appointee would create a 50-50 tie and effectively allow the GOP to retain Senate control because of Vice President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote.

Rounds said Saturday it was not appropriate to talk about the Senate's balance of power changing with the possible appointment of a Republican if Johnson's seat were to become vacant.

There is ample precedent for senators to continue to hold office while incapacitated. Unless Johnson's seat is vacated by his death or resignation, Democrats would retain the majority.

© 2006 The Associated Press