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Wag the Blog: Your Thoughts on Sen. Tim Johnson

So far today readers have posted over 100 comments on our question about whether the Constitution should be amended to provide a way for an incapacitated senator to be replaced.

We appreciate your participation. Your thoughtful comments, analysis, and insights make The Fix a vibrant conversation hub. The following just a small sample of reader response to today's question. The discussion and debate is ongoing...


The question is an interesting one, but I think there are two very important distinctions between a Senator and a President.

The First is that the President is a Federal officer while the Senator is a State official. Obviously the Senator works for the federal government but his constituancy is his state and therefor the Federal government has no buissness getting involved. If the state wants to reform its constitution to handle such a case that would be more appropriate.
The second distinction is that the President is an executive. By the nature of that position it is necessary to be at the to p of your game at all times. An executive is in charge and one never knows when a crisis will come up that requires executive decision making. For that reason even if the President is under anesthesia for a couple of hours it is essential that there be a chain of command in place to avoid chaos.

So I guess my answer to your question would be that an amendment to the Federal constitution is unnecessary. This is a state issue and each state should decide how to handle such a situation.

Posted by: Michigan Mike |


A special election should always be the answer, not a Constitutional amendment. The Senator, if capable, and his family should make the decision based on Sen. Johnson's ability to serve, not how it affects the majority status. If he decides to resign, the Governor should not be able to name a replacement. The people elected Tim Johnson the man, his party affiliation was secondary. A different Democrat may not be their will either as they elected a Republican governor and senator (Thune). Let the people decide in a special election who their next senator will be. That's called democracy, and it keeps the Republican and Democratic special interests out of it.

Posted by: IndyWasDem


It seems that the 17th Amendment is structured to allow the state in question to determine what constitutes a vacancy and then, if a vacancy has taken place, to hold a special election or let the governor appoint a temporary replacement until the next scheduled election.

This method seems sound and I would therefore oppose a Constitutional amendement. I would also add that I would generally support a special election versus a gubernatorial appointment if the time until the next election is considerable.

Posted by: ANetliner


I am not going to give my opinion on if an amendment is needed. The reason for this is I believe it would be clouded by the moment. In this highly partisan atomosphere we live in today I think the response of the majority might be different. It would be better to debate the amendment when no current senator would be affected. Under these conditions I am sure fewer republicans would be for an amendment and more democrats would be for it. Finnaly, as human beings we should all wish Tim Johnson the best recovery possible.

Posted by: Ray


If incapacitated, the office holder, in this case, Senator Johnson should resign. However, there is a political problem if the Governor, who chooses the replacment,is of a different party. In this instance having the republican governor of South Dakota choosing another republican thwarts the will of the voters. Moreover, the prospects of a party switch will encourage the ailing senator not to resign. So if a law is to be written, it should contain safeguards against party changeovers.

Posted by: Michael Klagsbrun


A constitutional amendment is a good idea - but only if it goes further, and mandates that the people of the state must vote on the senator's replacement. Control of the U.S. Senate should not be decided by the results of a state gubernatorial election.

Posted by: e.a. nesi


like the idea of a "living will" for Senators, but ultimately I agree that state governments should decide the course of action in the case that their senator is incapacitated.

I do not, however, believe that political party should be a primary consideration. The people of South Dakota elected a Democratic senator, but they also elected a Republican governor, presumably knowing he would have the power to make appointments to vacant Senate seats. The Constitutional order of succession makes no provision for political party - indeed, if some disaster befell Republicans Bush and Cheney, Democrat Nancy Pelosi would become president to little protest.

Posted by: peter


If the replacement of Senators and Represenatives should be confined to the people of their state, then why not similarly confine their duties to affairs solely impacting their state?

Let's face it, both chambers of Congress are populated by people who can't hold a candle to folks like Mo Udall, Mike Mansfield, Scoop Jackson, etc. There are no genuine statesmen left in either body, so let's transform the Congress into what it really is -- just a glorified state legislature.

By enshrining in the Constitution our expectation that a Senator or Representative actually do their job and show up for it, which includes not just representing their state but also guiding the affairs of the entire United States of America, then perhaps we can show that we expect a little bit more of our elected leaders.

Posted by: Glover Park


By Editors  |  January 10, 2007; 12:55 PM ET
Categories:  Senate , Wag The Blog  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Wag The Blog: Sen. Tim Johnson
Next: Parsing the Polls: Is Bush's "Surge" Idea DOA?


Considering the Senate is made up of 100 members + many more staffers, I daresay it's at least appropriate to apply the family and medical leave act, which allows for 12 weeks of unpaid time off in such a situation. Given the way the Congress met during the last session, that would be the equivalent of about 9 months. Given the way they plan to meet this session, that would be the equivalent of about 15 weeks.

Posted by: texd | January 11, 2007 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Personally, I think it is outrageous and lacking in compassion to even be discussing this as an issue at this time.
Senator Tim Johnson is critically ill and all our energies should be spent in prayer for him and his family. S. Johnson

Posted by: Stephanie Johnson | January 11, 2007 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Senators or other opponents of Bush should be replaced by a replacement of their own designation, if not a vote. The unelected political appointee Ashcroft lost to Mel Carnahan's wife but in the Paul Wellstone case, the entire Wellstone family was killed all at once in order to avoid this from happening again. In order to remove the incentive for Bush's Armies of Compassion to observe the accidental death of Democrats and civil rights leaders, the replacement should be designated in advance by the target before assassination takes place.

Posted by: Mel Carnahan | January 10, 2007 7:16 PM | Report abuse

The spinsters are out in force and have been most of the day, and what is going to be said tonight by GW is pretty well known. What a delight it would be if the spinners were off by more than just a little.

Posted by: lylepink | January 10, 2007 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Why does the Washington Post allow users like "che" to post what amounts to advertisements in these forums. This person doesn't even bother to attempt to write about the topic that we've all come here to discuss and read. I don't want to sift through unrelated rants and lists of someone else's blogs in order to hold a discussion. I wish the Post would remove these and similar comments.

Posted by: Jordan Roberts | January 10, 2007 4:15 PM | Report abuse

On the day of 9-11, after they ran and hid like friehgtened children, could we have assumed that Bush and Cheney were "incapacitated" and replaced them? Or, now that there are more than a few rumors floating around that Bush has flat out lost his mind, can we replace him for being incapacitated? Let's talk about this, not a Senator who had a health crisis but is on the mend.

Posted by: MikeB | January 10, 2007 4:03 PM | Report abuse

More war means more money for the rich buddys.

For uncensored news please bookmark:

Posted by: che | January 10, 2007 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Teehee. Romney got U-tubed... will that be the new political buzz word? Here's the link, courtesy of Greg Sargent:

Here's Romney on abortion:

"I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I have since the time that my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a U.S. Senate candidate. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, that we should sustain and support it. And we should sustain and support that law and the right of a woman to make that choice."

And here's Romney on Reagan:

"I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush."

Of course he didn't know then, that over time, all Reagan's significant flaws would be miraculously erased and he would be annoined Saint Ronnie, but too late now.

Posted by: drindl | January 10, 2007 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Well, it's only going to get nastier now. Does anyone remember Vietnam? How the country was torn apart? How anyone who didn't hew to the party line was called a traitor and threatened or harmed? How four peaceful college kids were shot dead in cold blood at Kent State? We're going there again folks... the more we try to try to stop this war, the harder the vicious warmongers of the right will dig in and attack us. It's all so tragically deja vu, so sadly predictable, you can just see that reel unwinding before you:

'Fox News Anchor Calls Ted Kennedy A 'Hostile Enemy Right Here On The Home Front'

This morning on Fox News, anchor Gretchen Carlson called Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) a "hostile enemy" of the United States because he has demanded that Congress vote on whether to approve funding for escalation in Iraq. In an interview with White House counselor Dan Bartlett, Carlson compared Kennedy to insurgents and terrorists in Iraq, saying that Kennedy represented the same kind of force "right here on the home front."

Posted by: drindl | January 10, 2007 3:34 PM | Report abuse

With respect to Michigan Mike (and a little puzzlment toward Chris), Senators are not state officials. Senators are federal officials. It makes no sense to say the "Federal government has no business getting involved" in the business of Senators. They are half of one of the three Federal branches of government!

Posted by: Willie G | January 10, 2007 2:33 PM | Report abuse

For uncensored news please bookmark:

In defiance of 2006 vote, Bush will escalate Iraq war

By the Editorial Board
10 January 2007

With his nationally televised speech tonight, President Bush is preparing a massive intensification of the criminal war in Iraq.

Barely two months after midterm elections that were universally understood as a massive popular repudiation of this war, Bush is set to announce that he is ordering at least 20,000 more American combat troops into the country.

The dramatic shift in policy that is being unveiled by the administration is, even by the standards of American political history, without any real precedent. True, Woodrow Wilson launched the US into the First World War after campaigning just a year earlier on the slogan, "He kept us out of the war." And Lyndon Johnson, after campaigning as the "peace" candidate in 1964, presided over the massive escalation of the Vietnam War.

Yet, there is undeniably something new in the actions of this president. What is involved is not a potential war, but one that has been waged for nearly four years and explicitly rejected by the overwhelming majority of American people

The justification and aims of the Iraqi invasion and occupation have been utterly discredited. The reasons initially given for sending in US forces in March 2003 to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein--weapons of mass destruction and supposed ties between Baghdad and Al Qaeda--have long ago been thoroughly exposed as lies. They were deliberately fabricated by the Bush administration and then disseminated with the assistance of a compliant mass media with the aim of terrorizing the American people into accepting the war.

The war--itself a criminal act of aggression under international law--has produced a social and humanitarian catastrophe, while provoking revulsion and outrage worldwide and within the US itself.

Abu Ghraib, the Haditha massacre, the lynching of Saddam Hussein and countless other crimes, most going unreported, have exposed this war as a savage exercise in colonial-style repression. It has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis while leaving over 3,000 US soldiers and Marines dead and over 22,000 wounded, many of them grievously.

In defending its decision to continue and escalate the war, the Bush administration is preparing to recycle its old lies about the Iraqi occupation being the front line in the "war on terror," while also claiming that Washington is engaged in a noble effort to implant democracy in Iraq.

This so-called "democracy" consists of a country under foreign occupation, which, thanks to the US intervention and policy of divide and rule, has been thrust into a catastrophic sectarian civil war that claims over 100 lives daily, while pushing literally millions of Iraqis to flee their homeland.

To the extent that the Iraqis have been asked, they have repeatedly expressed in their overwhelming majority the demand that US troops withdraw from Iraq. Hostility to the American occupation is such that one recent poll--cited by the Iraq Study Group--showed fully 61 percent of the population supporting armed attacks on US troops.

In reality, the supposed war for democracy in Iraq has only exposed the collapse of democracy in the US itself, where the American people have been effectively deprived of any means within the existing political setup to realize their objective of ending this war.

During the early days of his administration, President Richard Nixon invoked support from a supposed "great silent majority" in justifying his own escalation of the Vietnam War under conditions of mounting demands for the war to end. The US intervention was to continue for over five more years--at the cost of approximately 20,000 American and over a million Vietnamese lives--before Nixon himself was forced out by impeachment charges and the last American forces were evacuated by helicopter from the roof of the US embassy.

For the rest please go to:

Posted by: che | January 10, 2007 2:18 PM | Report abuse

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