Con­gres­sional tra­di­tion al­lows McCain time to bat­tle can­cer

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

WASH­ING­TON: Sen John McCain’s treat­ment for brain can­cer could keep him out of Wash­ing­ton for weeks, per­haps months, and yet it’s un­likely any­one will chal­lenge his ex­tended leave. Congress has a long tra­di­tion in which no one ques­tions ail­ing law­mak­ers tak­ing time to re­cover. For starters, it’s just poor form. And, frankly, it’s up to the stricken mem­ber of Congress and their doc­tors to de­cide when - or even if - they re­turn to work. Some have re­cu­per­ated away from the Capi­tol for a year or more.

It’s an un­writ­ten cour­tesy that of­ten doesn’t ex­tend to the real working world where em­ploy­ees are forced to file for med­i­cal dis­abil­ity or take un­paid leave. Julie Tar­allo, McCain’s spokes­woman, said Fri­day that “fur­ther con­sul­ta­tions with Sen McCain’s Mayo Clinic care team will in­di­cate when he will re­turn to the United States Se­nate.”

McCain had taken to Twit­ter on Thurs­day promis­ing a quick re­turn. “Un­for­tu­nately for my spar­ring part­ners in Congress, I’ll be back soon, so stand-by!” said the six-term Ari­zona Repub­li­can and 2008 GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee. The 80-year-old McCain was di­ag­nosed with glioblas­toma, an ag­gres­sive type of brain can­cer, ac­cord­ing to doc­tors at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, who had re­moved a blood clot above his left eye last Fri­day. He and his fam­ily are weigh­ing his treat­ment, in­clud­ing ra­di­a­tion and chemo­ther­apy.

In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of McCain’s di­ag­no­sis, Repub­li­cans wouldn’t spec­u­late about what the tem­po­rary loss of McCain’s vote would mean. But McCain’s ab­sence com­pli­cates Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell’s plans for a Se­nate vote on a GOP health care bill to erase much of the Af­ford­able Care Act. A vote is pos­si­ble on Tues­day, but GOP de­fec­tions plus McCain’s likely ab­sence could sink any chance even to get started. McCain wouldn’t be the first law­maker this year to miss votes, hear­ings and other leg­isla­tive ac­tion. Repub­li­can Sen. Johnny Isak­son re­mained in Ge­or­gia for sev­eral weeks ear­lier this year as he un­der­went two back surg­eries and re­cu­per­ated. Isak­son missed the vote on con­firm­ing Supreme Court Jus­tice Neil Gor­such.

Ra­zor’s edge

In Jan­uary 2012, then-Sen Mark Kirk, R-Ill. suf­fered a ma­jor stroke and didn’t re­turn for al­most a full year, mak­ing a dramatic entrance by climb­ing the steps of the Capi­tol on the open­ing day of the fol­low­ing Congress. In a law­maker’s ab­sence, con­gres­sional staff keep the of­fice op­er­at­ing, send out news re­leases - one from McCain on Thurs­day blasted the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Syria pol­icy - and re­spond to con­stituents. Ab­sences can leave the mar­gin of con­trol on a ra­zor’s edge.

The month af­ter Democrats won back the Se­nate in 2006, South Dakota Demo­crat Tim John­son had a near-fa­tal episode of bleed­ing in his brain that, at the time, threat­ened to shift the Se­nate’s mar­gin from 51-49 Demo­cratic to 50-50 GOP con­trol with Repub­li­can Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney the de­cid­ing vote. John­son re­cov­ered but was away from the Se­nate for al­most nine months. McCain is bat­tling the same form of can­cer that claimed the life of Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., in Au­gust 2009. Kennedy was away from the Se­nate for ex­tended stretches but re­turned on oc­ca­sion to vote.

“There were times when Sen­a­tor Reid had to jug­gle things be­cause he had two sen­a­tors ab­sent, Sen­a­tor Kennedy and Sen­a­tor Byrd,” said long­time for­mer Se­nate aide Jim Man­ley, who worked for both Kennedy and thenMa­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “Hav­ing said that, it re­ally never, with a hand­ful of ex­cep­tions, proved to be that big of a prob­lem.”

Kennedy also del­e­gated some of his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as chair­man of the Health, Ed­u­ca­tion, La­bor, and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee by farming out re­spon­si­bil­ity for bills be­fore the panel to col­leagues such as then-Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Bar­bara Mikul­ski, D-Md. McCain has had Sen. Jim In­hofe, ROkla., han­dle his du­ties as Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee chair­man. Un­clear is whether In­hofe will steer the sweep­ing de­fense pol­icy bill if the Se­nate be­gins de­bate in Au­gust. And, if leg­isla­tive ne­ces­sity should dic­tate that McCain re­turn for a cru­cial, dramatic vote, there’s prece­dent for that.

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