Senator Who Suffered Brain Injury to Appear Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) makes his first public appearance Tuesday afternoon in Sioux Falls, S.D., after suffering a near-fatal brain hemorrhage last December. The senator's office says he has improved dramatically, but whether he will seek re-election is unknown.
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Senator Who Suffered Brain Injury to Appear

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Senator Who Suffered Brain Injury to Appear

Senator Who Suffered Brain Injury to Appear

Senator Who Suffered Brain Injury to Appear

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Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) makes his first public appearance Tuesday afternoon in Sioux Falls, S.D., after suffering a near-fatal brain hemorrhage last December. The senator's office says he has improved dramatically, but whether he will seek re-election is unknown.

ALEX COHEN, host:

Today, South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson will hold his first public appearance since last December. That's when Johnson suffered a brain hemorrhage.

NPR's Jason Beaubien is in South Dakota and he joins us now.

So Jason, what's the senator's condition at this point?

JASON BEAUBIEN: Well, quite frankly, we don't know exactly what the senator's condition is. His office has said that he's improved dramatically, that they've been issuing updates. He's come back from a very devastating brain injury. He didn't - he wasn't even able to talk originally. He's been going through extensive physical speech therapy every day for the recent months, recent weeks.

So people are here to see what his condition is like, but the expectation is that he has improved dramatically. There's talk about him now being able to go up and down stairs. So we're going to see what his condition is, but that really is the big question that should be answered by this event today.

COHEN: Tell us about today's appearance. Where will the senator be?

BEAUBIEN: He's here in Sioux Falls. And they're billing it as a thank you, South Dakota event, the Johnsons are; they're saying that this is a chance for them to thank their constituents for their patience and their support during this long recuperation.

COHEN: How well has Senator Johnson's office been able to function while he's been recuperating?

BEAUBIEN: When you talk to people in Washington, certainly his office has been functioning. His office has been doing the things that senators' offices do, but he has not been able to be involved. He's not been able to get up to the Hill.

He has been recently meeting with his staff regularly, reading communications, but that day-to-day getting out there and doing what politicians do, he has not been able to do. And this is going to be his first public event.

COHEN: Senator Johnson is a Democrat and he's also up for reelection next year. Is there any talk about whether or not he'll seek reelection and what both Democrats and Republicans will do if he doesn't decide to run again?

BEAUBIEN: At this point his office has not said whether he's going to seek reelection or not. There are certainly some people who would like to keep him in that position, to keep him going if that's what he chooses to do. There's debate about what will happen if he decides to stay in, whether a Republican would want to challenge him.

It would be certainly a difficult position to be attacking him on his medical condition. It would be a very difficult thing to do. But there might be someone who wants to come forward and say, you know, he's not able to do the job the way you need someone to do this job. So that could occur. And if he does pull out, then certainly there'll be other Democrats who are going to jump in. At the moment, there have been no major candidates who have come forward and said they're going to challenge Senator Johnson if he decides not to run next year.

COHEN: Later tonight ABC will be running a piece about the senator. It was done by ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff, who suffered a serious head injury in Iraq. And pretty much Woodruff is the only reporter that Senator Johnson has opened himself up to, is that correct?

BEAUBIEN: That is correct. And Woodruff has made a few comments, sort of letting out what is going to be in this, and he says that he's chronicled this rather remarkable recovery from being completely unable to function to slowly coming back from this medical condition.

And he's saying that Johnson is back, and that, yes, there are still some signs, some trouble with speech at times, but that the Senator is back and is ready to function again. So it is really significant to see, and everyone's just going to be sort of judging him on, you know, is the old senator back? Is his sense of humor there? Is he able to talk, able to give the speech well and performed as a U.S. senator?

COHEN: NPR's Jason Beaubien in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Thank you so much, Jason.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

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