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Sen. Kirk expected to return to Senate in January

Sen. Mark Kirk R-Ill. going through walking exercise RehabilitatiInstitute Chicago following stroke he suffered January 2012. (AP Photo/Courtesy Sen. Mark

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. going through a walking exercise at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago following a stroke he suffered in January 2012. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Sen. Mark Kirk's office)

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Updated: January 3, 2013 6:32AM



Two days before the Nov. 6 presidential election, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who rarely appeared publicly since suffering a major stroke in January, made a surprising accomplishment.

Wearing a brace on his left leg, he climbed the steps of the Willis Tower — 37 floors, from the 66th floor to the 103rd — during the Rehab Institute of Chicago’s annual stair climb.

Now, as the one-year anniversary of his stroke inches closer, a bigger question remains: will the junior senator from Illinois climb the steps of the U.S. Capitol?

“They kept saying: ‘you’re going to get better’ and they were right,” Kirk said in an interview with NBC-5 after completing his Willis Tower climb.

On the tape of that interview, and others recorded during the run-up to the election, Kirk appears mentally sharp and physically improved. He walks with the aid of a cane. When he speaks, the left side of his face and body reveal the remnants of the stroke he suffered.

By all accounts from colleagues, Kirk has made remarkable progress, particularly since he underwent multiple surgeries, including operations to reduce swelling around his brain.

He’s told people of his goal of returning to his position by January and those close to him say that’s still on track.

His Senate office last week had no comment on Kirk’s rehabilitation, only pointing to recent reports in which he announced his intentions to return by the next congressional session in January.

Some have attempted to draw parallels between Kirk’s absence from Congress and that of Jesse Jackson Jr., who recently resigned, citing bipolar depression — as well as a looming federal investigation into his finances. Jackson went on medical leave for his mental health issues in June, releasing only terse statements and making no public appearances.

Kirk has chosen to treat his absence considerably differently, remaining active in Republican circles, releasing video updates showing his progress and continuing to forge partnerships with other party leaders.

Throughout this year, Kirk has released several videos showing his rigorous rehabilitation efforts, which have included intense physical and speech therapy.

During Kirk’s absence, his office has kept up on a steady stream of news releases, including most recently on Thursday, announcing Kirk joined Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) to add an amendment to the Iran sanctions act.

Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady said Kirk, the de-facto head of Illinois’ struggling GOP, lent a much-needed hand during congressional elections. Kirk recorded endorsement videos in key races, including in his own former 10th Congressional District. Ultimately, the Democrat, Brad Schneider, beat out Kirk’s Republican successor , Bob Dold.

“His spirits are great. Physically he’s great. Mentally, he’s very sharp and has been for a long time. He’s working his tail off every day,” Brady said. “He’s fully engaged, he’s been very helpful on the party stuff. He’s helped us tremendously with fund-raising, with strategy… It was all Mark’s input that helped with the … last five or six or seven months.”

Brady said that has included calls on the party’s behalf to help with fund-raising.

Kirk fashions himself a moderate Republican who goes out of his way to co-sponsor legislation with Democrats. His stroke hit days after he returned from a tour of Poland with Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.).

“He got there in the Senate and the first thing he did was get on my bill for Visa waiver and my other ethics bills,” Quigley said. “There’s not a lot of Republicans doing that.”

Quigley said even though he’s not on the Senate side, it’s clear Kirk’s office has remained engaged.

“I make a point of telling people that he’s still active,” said Quigley. “I know his office is working full speed ahead. He was a great, bipartisan ally. Most of us feel the same way, let him get healthy. When he gets back, we’ll get down to business.”



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