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Senate office work goes on, as Kirk remains hospitalized

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U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, shown here at a public event ealier this year. (WBEZ/Bill Healy, file)

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois remains in fair condition at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, just more than two weeks after suffering a stroke. His Senate offices are still open and some of his legislative proposals are even moving forward.

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Since his stroke on Jan. 21, the Highland Park Republican has missed 14 roll call votes in the Senate, though his vote wouldn't have made a difference in any of them.

Kirk's staff has not introduced legislation since then, but he has been added as co-sponsor on a handful of bills and amendments. One of them, an amendment to prevent former members of Congress convicted of serious public corruption from collecting a federal pension, passed the Senate last week.

United States Sen. Scott Brown, a Massachusetts Republican, urged his colleagues to pass the proposal as a gesture to Kirk.

"This is a good government amendment, and an appropriate way to honor our colleague, Senator Kirk, who we wish a speedy recovery," Brown said prior to a voice vote on the amendment.

Meahwhile, Kirk's top staff asked for advice from aides to U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat, according to Johnson's chief of staff, Drey Samuelson. Johnson was away from the Senate for nine months following a brain hemorrhage in 2006.

"Our legislative director and I went up and we had a conversation with [Kirk's] chief of staff and their legislative director and another person for about an hour," Samuelson said. "And I hate to say the word – sort of experts in this – but I guess that’s what we are."

Samuelson said the meeting centered on the procedural and technical complications of a situation like this. For example, when Johnson was in a coma for three weeks, authorization for travel and other expenses posed an issue, Samuelson said.

It was another two to three weeks after Johnson came out of the coma, Samuelson recalled, before he started speaking with the senator about official business.

"The legislative assistants would give him memos, which he could read without any problem," Samuelson said. "And then he would say ‘okay’ or ‘not okay’ or...whatever his feelings were."

Kirk's neurosurgeon told reporters a few days after his stroke that he had requested his Blackberry - a sign, the doctor joked, that the senator was ready to get back to work. But it's clear that Kirk, just 10 days following a second surgery to relieve swelling in the brain, is still very much in the recovery stage.

His office declined to answer specific questions about office management.

"As Senator Kirk continues his recovery, and throughout his rehabilitation, his office will remain open to constituents," a Kirk spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "The staff will continue [to] pursue his legislative priorities and provide the same level of service and dedication to the residents of Illinois as they have for the last year."

As they went about that work recently, Kirk's staff got a small gift, courtesy of Johnson's staff.

"Out staff bought their staff lunch a few days afterwards," Samuelson said. "Because we’re certainly sensitized to how nice people were to us when Tim fell ill and we wanted to do the same."

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