With nationwide attention focused on the hospitalization of Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., questions are now beginning to be asked about how long the senator will be out of the job while being treated for clinical depression resulting from a massive stroke last May — just as he was winning the Democratic primary for the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.
Strokes are not that uncommon among senators. Politifact noted recently that Democrats Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Ben Ray Lujan (NM) both experienced strokes last year.
Van Hollen went back to the Hill in a few weeks, now taking Tylenol and blood pressure medication, and Lujan returned to the Senate after a few months showing no signs of slurred speech.
Before them, the last senator to suffer a stroke was Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois back in 2012. It took a year for Kirk to return to the Senate and, in 2016, he was defeated by Democrat Tammy Duckworth.
But Fetterman’s situation is far different from that of Kirk, or Van Hollen and Lujan. His near-fatal stroke occurred on the eve of a smashing primary win last May and it was clear from speech difficulties during the October 25 televised debate against Republican Mehmet Oz that Fetterman’s recovery was likely to be far down the road.
The severity of the Pennsylvanian’s situation is more akin to those of two senators in the 1960s.
In 1969, Republican Sen. Karl Mundt of South Dakota suffered a serious stroke that kept him hospitalized for the remainder of his term. Wife Mary Mundt brushed aside overtures from state and national Republican leaders that her husband resign and let Republican Gov. Frank Farrar appoint a healthy successor.
But Mundt cast no votes for three years. When the Nixon White House sent hints about Mundt coming back to the Senate to cast a vote to confirm controversial Supreme Court nominee Clement Haynsworth, Mary Mundt said no.
After Farrar’s defeat in 1970, Republicans panicked that after Democrats assumed the governorship in January, they would have the power to appoint a senator if something happened to Mundt.
According to recent revelations, William “Obie” O’Brien, a close friend of the Mundts, secured a letter of resignation with Mundt’s signature and took it with him to the lame duck governor in the state capital of Pierre. But the resignation was conditional on Farrar appointing the choice of O’Brien and Mary Mundt (which was to let the state Republican convention choose a candidate he would then nominate to the Senate).
Farrar refused to accept the deal and the resignation letter stayed folded in O’Brien’s sport jacket.
Two years later, Mundt’s Senate seat was won by one-term Democratic Rep, Jim Abourezk.
“I could never have won against an incumbent, I don’t think,” Abourezk told the Argus (SD) Leader. Mundt died in 1973.
Freshman Democratic Sen. Clair Engle of California suddenly suffered a brain tumor in 1963 and in August 24 of that year, it was removed. After the surgery, Engle was partially paralyzed and unable to speak. State Democratic leaders refused to endorse him for re-election unless he provided details about his health. Engle underwent a second operation in April of 1964 and then announced he was retiring.
On June 10, 1964, Engle was wheeled into the Senate to vote on breaking the filibuster against the Civil Rights Act. When the clerk called his name, the Californian pointed to his eye and thus signaled he was voting “aye” in the affirmative.
The filibuster was broken, the Civil Rights Act passed, and Engle died on July 30 at age 52.
Fetterman is not in the condition that Mundt and Engle were. But his hospitalization and treatment does raise question about the seriousness of the Keystone State senator's condition and how long he will be this way.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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