MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota was hospitalized after suffering an illness in his office at the U.S. capital. The Senator was rushed to the hospital and was in intensive care. Senator Johnson is a Democrat. If he is unable to serve, control of the Senate could potentially stay with the Republicans for the upcoming 110th Congress.
Joining us to talk about this is NPR congressional correspondent David Welna. David, first tell us what you know about Senator Johnson's condition.
DAVID WELNA: Well, Michele, I should just tell you first what happened here at the capital was he was talking to a group of reporters. He began to stumble in his speech and walked back to his office on Capital Hill. And his right arm began to feel sort of like he couldn't move it. A Capital Hill physician was called and he was then taken by ambulance to George Washington University Hospital, the same hospital, by the way, that Vice President Cheney goes to for his heart issues.
And he was examined by a stroke team because there was a suspicion that he had had a stroke. Now, after being there in observation, his office is saying that a stroke has been ruled out, as has a heart attack. And so at this point, it's not clear what it was that was ailing Senator Johnson, but those very serious ailments have been ruled out.
NORRIS: This incident, while these questions still remain about his health, really points out just how precarious the Deomcrats' hold on the Senate really is.
WELNA: It certainly does. And in fact, incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spent the entire afternoon at George Washington University Hospital, watching what was happening with Johnson, because really whether Democrats take control of the Senate could be at stake here. With only 51 Democrats there, any one of them who drops out of the pack could shift the balance to Republicans, because a 50/50 Senate would mean that Vice President Cheney would be the tie breaker, as was the case when President Bush took office in 2001. You had a 50/50 Senate, and then all of a sudden, Vermont Republican Jim Jeffords jumped and became an independent and suddenly the Senate was controlled by Democrats for a year and a half.
But I think Democrats are very aware of this. They wonder whether Joe Lieberman, who ran as an independent Democrat last month, will stay in their pack. They hope so, but this incident really points to how precarious this is.
NORRIS: I imagine that phones are ringing and Blackberries are buzzing all over Washington right now. Democrats are just taking control of the Senate. They plan to take control in January when they return. Key members were preparing to take over key committee assignments. Is all that on hold until this is resolved?
WELNA: Well, I think it's a little bit in suspense right now. Of course, both Democrats and Republicans have been mapping out what they're gonna be doing when they come in, their agenda, their committee assignments. And you know, because Republicans lost control of the Congress, they've also lost a number of seats on each committee. Their seat assignments in the Senate just came out today. And in fact, if they were to regain control, of course, they'd get more seats. The ranking members would become chairmen.
the kinds of investigations the Democrats wanted to carry out into the Bush administration probably wouldn't be done. At least on the Senate side. But on the House side, Democrats would be in control no matter what.
NORRIS: That's NPR's David Welna speaking to us from the Capitol. Thank you, David.
WELNA: You're welcome, Michele.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.