GOP senators may take a page from the Democrats’ playbook and filibuster the normally routine procedural vote that determines committee chairmanships. The tactic is meant to protect against the possibility, as it did for the Dems after the 2000 election, that Republicans might regain a majority in the Senate.

Concerns over the health of South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson raised the chance that Republicans could capture the Senate, and if they do they want to make sure they’ll be allowed to reassign chairmanships that would otherwise remain locked regardless of a power shift.


The incapacitation of South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson has put all eyes in Washington on what is normally a little-noticed Senate vote now scheduled for Jan. 4. It is called the “organizing resolution,” and is the bit of internal housekeeping that determines how committee memberships will be allotted between the two parties, as well as who will get to serve as chairman and ranking members of each of the panels. These resolutions traditionally stand until the next Congress, even if the makeup of the chamber shifts to put the other party in the majority, which is why precedent would seem to dictate that the Chamber would stay in Democratic hands, even if Johnson is replaced by a Republican.

But don’t count on it this time. Incoming majority leader Harry Reid insisted at a press conference that “there isn’t a thing that’s changed” as a result of Johnson’s illness. But a family friend told Thursday morning that Johnson’s prognosis is unclear, adding: “The next 24 hours will be crucial.”

Even if Johnson ultimately recovers from the congenital blood disorder known as arteriovenous malformation, which required emergency surgery Wednesday night, it now looks highly unlikely that he will healthy by Jan. 4. With Johnson unable to vote, Democrats still have enough to prevail, with 50 votes (including the two independent Senators, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont) to 49 for the Republicans. But Democrats now fear the real possibility that Republicans will filibuster that resolution. They could insist — just as the Democrats did after the 2000 election that left the chamber evenly split, with Vice President Dick Cheney as the tie-breaker — on an “out clause” that stipulates that control of the chamber goes to them if they somehow manage to achieve a majority during the course of the session. As both sides remember, that clause came in handy for the Democrats a few months later, when Vermont’s Jim Jeffords abruptly declared himself an independent and gave the Democrats a one-vote majority.

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