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U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., suffered a stroke in New Mexico last week and is recovering after surgery at an Albuquerque hospital, according to his chief of staff.
Luján is expected to make a full recovery, Carlos Sanchez, the chief of staff, said in a news release.
But any prolonged absence would have national implications since Senate Democrats, who are joined in caucus by two independents, are evenly split with Republicans, making every vote critical for passing future legislation or the upcoming Supreme Court nomination.
The senator started to feel dizzy and fatigued Thursday morning and checked himself into Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, Sanchez said. He was transferred to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where it was determined he had a stroke in the cerebellum, which affected his balance. A decompressive surgery was performed to ease swelling, according to the release.
Strokes in the cerebellum, located toward the back of the skull, are rarer than strokes in the cerebrum, which is the top part of the brain, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine’s website. The cerebellum helps coordinate muscle action and control, fine movement, coordination and balance.
Luján, 49, is resting comfortably, Sanchez said. He said Luján’s offices will remain open.
Adán Serna, a spokesman for the senator, said Luján has been able to talk with staff and he hasn’t suffered any paralysis or loss of speech.
Luján’s medical team will be releasing more details about his condition in the coming days, Serna said. “The senator and his family would like to thank the wonderful doctors and staff at both UNM Hospital and Christus St. Vincent Regional Hospital for their excellent care during this time,” Sanchez said. “Senator Luján looks forward to getting back to work for the people of New Mexico. At this time, he and his family would appreciate their privacy, and ask for your continued prayers and well wishes.”
Luján’s office didn’t respond to questions Tuesday about why it waited five days to inform the public of his stroke. Serna said there currently isn’t a timeline for when Luján is expected to be released from the hospital.
Proxy voting isn’t allowed in the Senate, which is evenly split, with 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats who are joined in caucus by two independents. That means Luján’s absence will have an immediate impact if he’s not able to return in time for any votes.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that two previous senators in recent memory suffered strokes that led to prolonged absences.
“My thoughts are with Senator Ben Ray Luján and his family,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Twitter. “I’m so glad to hear that he will make a full recovery. We look forward to his quick return to the Senate.”
Luján last Wednesday held a virtual roundtable on cleaning up orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells in the state.
He had been scheduled to make a public appearance last Thursday, the same day he went to the hospital. He was to appear at the Albuquerque International Sunport with Sen. Martin Heinrich, Rep. Melanie Stansbury, Mayor Tim Keller and other officials to talk about future projects there funded through a federal infrastructure bill. That event was postponed after Stansbury tested positive for COVID earlier in the week.
His official Twitter account was active on Friday.
“Happy Friday. Our next Supreme Court justice will be a Black woman,” the account tweeted on Friday. Luján’s office didn’t say if those tweets came from the senator or someone on his staff.
Luján was elected to the Senate in 2020 and his term runs to 2027. Prior to that, he represented northern New Mexico for six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
He is the son of the late Ben Lujan, a longtime member of the New Mexico House of Representatives.
News of the senator’s condition triggered an outpouring of support. It also appeared to come as a surprise to some of his colleagues.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, the No. 2-ranking Democrat in the chamber, reportedly expressed shock and said he didn’t know about Luján’s stroke when asked by a reporter, according to The Hill, a Washington, D.C.-based news agency that covers national politics.
“My thoughts are with @SenatorLujan, who I am fortunate to count as both a colleague and a friend,” Heinrich said on Twitter. “I know that all of my fellow Senators and our constituents in New Mexico join me in sending our best wishes to him, his family, and his staff.”
U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-N.M., was among those offering similar sentiments.
“We are lighting a candle and sending both our prayers and our love for the quick recovery we know this wonderful, brilliant, and strong Senator for the gente will have,” she wrote on Twitter.
State GOP Chairman Steve Pearce said he and the state Republican Party were saddened to learn of Luján’s stroke and wish him a speedy recovery.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Senator and his family during this difficult time,” he said in the statement.