CNN Reporter: Ailing Senator Leaves Democrats' Dreams ‘Ripped in Half by Fate’

Filing two reports for Thursday’s "American Morning," CNN reporter Bob Franken asserted that Democrats are "more sincere" in their expressions of concern for ailing South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson. Reporting on what the political ramifications would be if the Democrat resigned from Congress, thus giving Republicans control of the Senate, Franken used apocalyptic language to describe such an occurrence. The loss of Johnson, who suffered a brain hemorrhage on Wednesday, would be a "major, major disruption" and could leave Congress "ripped in half by fate" Such an event would enable the Republicans to "protect their party's president from a full-scale assault." It was this type of over-the-top reporting that led to Franken’s claim that the Democrats are the ones who really care about the Senator:

Bob Franken: " Without question, all the expressions of concern for Senator Johnson are very sincere, but I've got to say that the ones from the Democrats, Miles, are even more sincere."

Co-host Miles O'Brien "Absolutely."

During his first segment, which aired at 7:32am, Franken introduced colorful phrases to describe the dire ramifications of Johnson’s resignation, which would allow South Dakota’s Republican governor to appoint a (likely) Republican replacement:

Franken: "If senator Johnson can no longer serve, and that's a big if, the balance of power in the Senate would turn upside down. It's as simple as that. Republicans would almost certainly take back the Senate that the Democrats had just wrenched from their control in last month's election."

John Mercurio (Hotline): "Democrats are expecting to come back to Capitol Hill in January in control of a legislative agenda. And this put a huge wrench in what Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are expected to try to accomplish in the first few--over the next two years."

Franken: "Tim Johnson of South Dakota is one of the states where the sitting governor chooses a replacement, without regard to party. Republican Governor Mike Rounds could be expected to appoint someone from his own party to fill the vacancy until the next election in two years. Instead of the 51/49 majority Democrats fought so hard to achieve, it would become 50/50, and the tie would be broken by the President of the Senate -- the Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney. Of course, Democrats would still control the House, but the opposition party's newly gained power in Congress would suddenly be ripped in half by fate, and GOP senators would be able to protect their party's president from a full-scale assault. Without question, all the expressions of concern for Senator Johnson are very sincere but I've got to say that the ones from the Democrats, Miles, are even more sincere."

O'Brien "Absolutely. Bob Franken, thank you very much."

An hour later, Franken continued discussing the issue in fearful terms, relating what a "disruption" such a shift in power would be:

Franken: "And the Republican governor of South Dakota would replace him with a fellow Republican, which he's allowed to do in that state. It would mean that the Senate goes 50-50. There's a tie-breaker here, and it belongs to the Vice President of the United States, the President of the Senate. And he's a Republican, of course, and that would mean that suddenly the majority, the majority power would go back to the Republicans which would be a major, major disruption. Even though the Democrats control the House of Representatives, a role of the Senate has always been to stop, to slow down the House and that would put the Republicans back in power. But that, of course, is all speculation, Miles."

Upon hearing this news, most Americans likely responded by saying a prayer for Senator Johnson. Wondering who is "more sincere," or speculating about the apocalyptic impact of his retirement, seems more than a little crass, even for CNN.

A transcript of both segments, which aired on December 14, follows:

7:32am

Miles O’Brien: "Democratic Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota reported in critical condition now after brain surgery overnight in a Washington hospital. Johnson was rushed to the hospital yesterday after suffering stroke-like symptoms during a conference call with reporters. If Johnson can't serve in the new Congress, Democrats could lose their one-vote majority in the Senate. 'American Morning's' Bob Franken is here with us for more on the political implications. A little bit of speculation, but nonetheless, a lot of talk in Washington about this."

Bob Franken: "A lot of speculation. Of course, we don't know the ultimate prognosis. He's in medical hands right now, but that hasn't stopped the political hands from quickly engaging in down-home calculation. The speculation began almost immediately after word got out Johnson had been stricken at the end of a political conference call with South Dakota reporters."

Tim Johnson: "The money was proposed to be provided a year ago, second to -- you know -- it just is frustrating."

Franken: "If senator Johnson can no longer serve, and that's a big if, the balance of power in the Senate would turn upside down. It's as simple as that. Republicans would almost certainly take back the Senate that the Democrats had just wrenched from their control in last month's election."

John Mercurio (Hotline): "Democrats are expecting to come back to Capitol Hill in January in control of a legislative agenda. And this put a huge wrench in what Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are expected to try to accomplish in the first few--over the next two years."

Franken: "Tim Johnson, South Dakota is one of the states where the sitting governor chooses a replacement, without regard to party. Republican Governor Mike Rounds could be expected to appoint someone from his own party to fill the vacancy until the next election in two years. Instead of the 51/49 majority Democrats fought so hard to achieve, it would become 50/50, and the tie would be broken by the President of the Senate -- the Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney. Of course, Democrats would still control the House, but the opposition party's newly gained power in Congress would suddenly be ripped in half by fate, and GOP senators would be able to protect their party's president from a full-scale assault. Without question, all the expressions of concern for Senator Johnson are very sincere, but I've got to say that the ones from the Democrats, Miles, are even more sincere."

O'Brien "Absolutely. Bob Franken, thank you very much."

8:32

Miles O’Brien: "Democratic Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota in critical condition now after brain surgery overnight in Washington. Johnson apparently suffering a stroke yesterday in the midst of a conference call with reporters. If Johnson cannot serve in the new Congress, Democrats could lose their one vote majority in the Senate. ‘American Morning’s’ Bob Franken is here with more on the political ramifications. Good morning, Bob."

Bob Franken: "Good morning. And the Democrats are probably feeling star-crossed this morning while they're also concerned about the health, of course, of Senator Tim Johnson. But they have to worry that the very hard-fought victory, I mean really hard fought that brought them a 51 to 49 majority in the U.S. Senate would suddenly be taken away by fate, if it is a chance that the senator is replaced. And the Republican governor of South Dakota would replace him with a fellow Republican, which he's allowed to do in that state. It would mean that the Senate goes 50-50. There's a tie-breaker here, and it belongs to the Vice President of the United States, the president of the Senate. And he's a Republican, of course, and that would mean that suddenly the majority, the majority power would go back to the Republicans which would be a major, major disruption. Even though the Democrats control the House of Representatives, a role of the Senate has always been to stop, to slow down the House and that would put the Republicans back in power. But that, of course, is all speculation, Miles."

O’Brien: "And at this point, we really don't even know what happened to him or what the prognosis is. So yes, I imagine Democrats, you know, they're concerned about a colleague, but the political calculus is going on."

Franken: "Well, you know, it's interesting in Washington, I can tell you that everybody went through this thought process: It's really too bad about Senator Johnson. Now what's going to happen?"

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org