Johnson Won’t Return Until After Aug. Break

Posted July 13, 2007 at 5:35pm

With no major votes coming before the August recess and his doctors calling for continued rehabilitation — and with the blessing of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) is not expected to return to the Senate until sometime after the August recess, sources close to the lawmaker said last week.

Johnson, who is recovering from a brain aneurysm last year that required emergency surgery, reportedly has been itching to get back to work in the Senate. Although he has begun working occasionally from home, his doctors have said he should complete more rehabilitation before attempting to take on the rigors of a full-time Senate schedule.

Johnson and Reid, who talk on a regular basis, according to a Democratic aide, discussed the possibility of Johnson’s early return last Tuesday. Although Johnson said he could return to work if needed, he and Reid agreed it would be best if he continued his therapy, a source close to Johnson confirmed.

“The Majority Leader was very generous with his offer, and the Senator is very appreciative. We are letting the doctors take the lead, and they say he needs more time in therapy,” Johnson spokeswoman Julianne Fisher said.

Reid’s spokesman, Jim Manley, declined to comment on what he called his boss’s “personal conversations” with other Senators. But he said Reid is eager for Johnson’s full recovery.

“Sen. Reid looks forward to having Sen. Johnson back in the Senate whenever he is ready,” Manley said.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s re-election campaign seems to be moving ahead even with the Senator physically on the sidelines. According to Johnson’s latest campaign finance report, the Senator collected $663,000 from April 1 to June 30 and finished the month with more than $1.75 million in the bank. Several of Johnson’s Senate colleagues were instrumental in stoking his campaign coffers, hosting fundraisers on his behalf or transferring money from their own political committees into his.

Before Johnson fell ill in December, the two-term Senator was considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election in 2008 because he won his previous race by just 524 votes and because the state votes heavily Republican in presidential years. National Republicans were leaning heavily on South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R) to run against him.

But Johnson’s illness has changed the political dynamic in the state, and many Republicans have been hesitant to attack him or even talk openly about the 2008 campaign.

On July 5, state Rep. Joel Dykstra became the first Republican to file papers to run for Senate in the Mount Rushmore State, making no mention of Johnson’s condition and saying only that he wanted to change the political direction of Washington, D.C. While Dykstra, a third-term lawmaker, is considered a rising star in South Dakota GOP circles, he does not have Rounds’ reputation or prominence and few Republican operatives are ready to pronounce him a top-tier challenger at this point.

Businessman Sam Kephart, who has been less hesitant to question Johnson’s ability to continue serving in the Senate, also is seeking the Republican nomination.

Rounds is now considered unlikely to run for Senate unless Johnson’s seat becomes vacant.