It is not the powerful and famous who are most inconvenienced by the wait. If and when the vacancy comes, the White House will announce a nominee, who will go before the Senate for confirmation. In between, the heavy lifting will be done by staff and volunteers who will research the nominee's background and shape the fight.
"I don't know that there are very many members of the Senate who are in limbo right now," one Senate Democratic aide said.
But much of Washington has been left to read tea leaves, studying the strength of Rehnquist's voice (he breathes through a hole in his windpipe) and the steadiness of his gait (a cluster of photographers regularly stakes out his town house in suburban Virginia). They look to the president's schedule for clues -- if it's light, could it be he's left room for something big?
Rehnquist has made fools of the prognosticators for years. And it's possible he has done it again. Just in case, one Republican Senate aide decided, "I think we'll be staying put and enjoying the nation's capital."