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Sen. Patrick Leahy

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) questions U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, March 23, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Democrats Lose Senate Majority as 82-Year-Old Leahy Heads for Hip Surgery

"It could be over for the Senate Dems now," said one policy expert in response. "This could mean they effectively lost their majority."

Jon Queally

The Democrats in the U.S. Senate have at least temporarily lost their slim-as-could-be majority as Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont heads into surgery Thursday after suffering a broken hip.

A statement from Leahy's office said the 82-year-old lawmaker "will undergo surgery to repair a broken hip that he suffered as a result from a fall at his house in McLean, Virginia, Wednesday night."

"Having been born blind in one eye," the statement continued, "the Senator has had a lifelong struggle with reduced depth perception." It said Leahy "has taken some remarkable dingers over the years but this one finally caught up with him." 

Leahy's doctors said immediate surgery would be the best course of action, according to the statement, and that a "healthy course of physical therapy" following his surgery would lead to a full recovery.

With the U.S. Senate split evenly 50-50, and Vice President Kamala Harris acting as the tie-breaker for Democrats, having Leahy out for even a short stint would make passing any legislation more difficult for the majority.

As messages wishing Leahy a speedy recovery poured in on social media, concern for what this means for Democratic power in the Senate going forward was also immediate:

"End the filibuster!" declared Matt Stoller, an author and policy expert. "Also get Leahy a hip replacement!"

Others pointed to the fact that with Thursday being the last day at the U.S. Supreme Court for Justice Stephen Breyer, and his replacement Ketanji Brown Jackson being sworn in at noon, the Democrats dodged a bullet at least in terms of that appointment.

"Imagine how nervously we’d be approaching a summer SCOTUS confirmation battle if Breyer had only just this week retired, having waited til the end of the term," said Brian Fallon of the advocacy group Demand Justice. "Instead, KBJ gets sworn in today, having had a smooth process that earned GOP votes thanks to Breyer announcing early."


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