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Sen. John Fetterman is seeking treatment for clinical depression: How are US Senate vacancies filled?

The Senator from Pennsylvania has suffered a number of health scares in recent years and checked himself into Walter Reed on Wednesday.

Sen. John Fetterman seeks treatment for clinical depression

Sen. John Fetterman has checked himself into hospital to receive treatment for clinical depression. Fetterman’s chief of staff Adam Jentleson confirmed that the Pennsylvania Democrat had voluntarily entered for treatment after being evaluated by a physician.

In a statement released on Thursday, Jentleson wrote: “On Monday, John was evaluated by Dr Brian P Monahan, the attending physician of the United States Congress. Yesterday, Dr Monahan recommended inpatient care at Walter Reed [National Military Medical Center]”.

“John agreed, and he is receiving treatment on a voluntary basis. After examining John, the doctors at Walter Reed told us John is getting the care he needs, and will soon be back to himself.”

Fetterman is no stranger to health concerns, having suffered a stroke while campaigning for the Senate seat last year. The former mayor of Braddock beat Trump-endorsed candidate Dr Mehmet Oz in a victory that Fetterman said was dedicated to “anyone that ever got knocked down that got back up”.

What will happen if Fetterman has to resign from the Senate?

Last week Fetterman was taken to hospital in a separate incident after saying he felt light-headed at a Democratic Party event. Initial tests were able to rule out the possibility of a stroke and doctors found no evidence of seizures.

However with Fetterman’s health appearing to pose an issue once again, the 53-year-old may not be able to see out his six-year-stint in the Upper House. So what would happen if he was forced to stand down?

The Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution (1913) outlines who holds authority for filling vacant Senate seats between elections: “If a vacancy occurs due to a senator’s death, resignation, or expulsion, the Seventeenth Amendment allows state legislatures to empower the governor to appoint a replacement to complete the term or to hold office until a special election can take place.”

State governors have the authority to nominate a replacement to sit in the Senate until the next election, which is a power utilised in 37 states. In these states the governor can name the replacement, who will remain in situ until a special election is held at the same time as the next scheduled general elections.

Pennsylvania is one of the 37 states that allows the governor to wield this power, meaning that Gov. Josh Shapiro would pick a replacement should Fetterman resign before the end of his term. Fetterman is only a few months into his time in the Capitol, meaning that his replacement would have until the presidential election in 2024, at least.

In the 2022 midterms Shapiro and Fetterman both secured Democratic wins in Pennsylvania but did so utilising very different styles of campaigning. It remains to be seen what sort of candidate Shapiro, whose campaign focused on his experience as an attorney general, would select if given the opportunity to pick one of the state’s two senators.


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