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Sen. Ben Ray Luján recovering after stroke, surgery

By Calley Hair
Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., takes the oath of office from Vice President Mike Pence during a re-enactment ceremony in the Old Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 3, 2021. File Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/UPI
1 of 3 | Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., takes the oath of office from Vice President Mike Pence during a re-enactment ceremony in the Old Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 3, 2021. File Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Sen. Ben Ray Luján is recovering in the hospital after having a stroke and undergoing brain surgery, his chief of staff announced.

Luján, 49, checked himself into a hospital in Santa Fe last week after experiencing dizziness and fatigue. He was then transferred to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where doctors found he had a stroke in his cerebellum. Luján received decompressive surgery to ease the swelling.

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He's "resting comfortably, and expected to make a full recovery," Chief of Staff Carlos Sanchez said in a press release Tuesday. "At this time, he and his family would appreciate their privacy, and ask for your continued prayers and well wishes."

Luján is a Democrat, and his absence could further hamstring the agenda of a party hanging on to its control in the Senate.

The makeup of the Senate is 50-50; Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris acts as the tie-breaking vote. A prolonged recovery leave for the senator could delay or endanger issues championed by Democrats, including a push to expand voting rights and name a new Supreme Court justice to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.

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"It's hard to evaluate what it means for here," Sen. Bob Casey, D- Pa., told The New York Times. "On the human level, it's scary. It just reminds all of us how good health is something we hope to be blessed by."

Following the news of Luján's stroke, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle issued well-wishes for a speedy recovery. But the tenuousness of the Democrat's slim majority on Capitol Hill was laid plain.

"I will be just really blunt: What's on my mind in this situation is that it could have been any one of us," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told The Washington Post. "The good news is he seems to be recovering well, and he'll be back. But in an evenly divided Senate, every one of us is indispensable."

For a legislative body whose members are an average age of 63 years old, Luján is one of the younger members of the caucus. He was sworn in a year ago after serving a few terms in the House of Representatives representing New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District.

His top legislative priorities include environmental protection and expanding access to healthcare. Over the summer, he introduced a rare bipartisan election reform bill aimed at expanding voting access for Native Americans that was later incorporated into the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

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