WASHINGTON — Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), absent from the Senate almost a year because of a stroke, plans a triumphant return next Thursday, walking up the steps of the Senate to be greeted by Vice President Joe Biden, the Sun-Times has learned.
Unless there is a change, Kirk, 53, will make his homecoming on the opening day of the new Congress, when the vice president presides and swears in new members.
Kirk’s return to the chamber comes after months of intense rehabilitation following the stroke symptoms on Jan. 21 that were followed by three brain surgeries.
In the past year, Kirk has been seen in public only once –on Nov. 4, when, wearing a brace on his left leg, he climbed 37 flights of stairs at the Willis Tower in downtown Chicago.
Kirk’s Senate stair-climb will be a highly symbolic statement of his recovery — and part of the orchestrated rollout of his return being planned by his office.
(It is possible to avoid most stairs by taking the Senate subway, which connects the Senate office buildings to the Capitol.)
The Associated Press reported that Kirk visited his Senate office for about 30 minutes on Dec. 20 to prepare for his return to active duty.
Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), who suffered a stroke on Dec. 13, 2006, returning fully to the Senate on Sept. 5, 2007, often uses a scooter to get around.
In February, Kirk started in-patient treatment at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago to regain walking and speaking skills. Kirk started out-patient treatment in May, eventually returning to his home in the Fort Sheridan neighborhood of Highland Park.
Kirk has kept a very low profile while in recovery. He has appeared in several videos released by his office providing updates on his condition and videos to back the re-election campaigns of Rep. Bob Dold and Rep. Judy Biggert, both of whom were defeated in November.
In an August video, Kirk appeared to have some partial paralysis of his left side.
Throughout the past year, Kirk has continued to be briefed on Senate business by his staff while working with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on a variety of Illinois issues, including recommendations for a new Chicago-based U.S. attorney.
Last week, the Senate approved a measure, co-sponsored by Kirk, toughening sanctions against Iran in order to deny the nation the ability to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran and Israel have long been a major agenda items for Kirk. He has been silent over the potential nomination by President Barack Obama of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to be Defense secretary; Hagel’s opposition to Iran sanctions — and his positions on Israel and Middle East issues — are seen as major roadblocks to Senate confirmation.
Kirk defeated then-Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias to be elected to the Senate on Nov. 3, 2010, in unusual balloting where he was up for two spots: to fill the unexpired term of President Barack Obama and for his own six-year term. Kirk was sworn in on Nov. 29, 2010, for the Obama slot and on Jan. 5, 2011, for his complete term.
The vice president’s office declined comment.