Blago names Obama replacement, Senate tries to block
Update: Senate Dems will refuse to seatIllinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich named a replacement for Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat on Tuesday, and Senate Democrats and the Illinois Secretary of State are trying to block the appointment.
The embattled governor, who is accused of trying to sell the seat, announced his plan to appoint former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to the Senate.
"The people of Illinois are entitlted to have two United States Senators representing them in Washington, DC," Blagojevich said. "As governor, I am required to make this appointment."
In a statement released Tuesday evening, Obama said Burris was a "fine public servant" but reiterated his stance that Blagojevich should resign and not appoint a replacement.
"Roland Burris is a good man and a fine public servant, but the Senate Democrats made it clear weeks ago that they cannot accept an appointment made by a governor who is accused of selling this very Senate seat. I agree with their decision, and it is extremely disappointing that Governor Blagojevich has chosen to ignore it. I believe the best resolution would be for the Governor to resign his office and allow a lawful and appropriate process of succession to take place. While Governor Blagojevich is entitled to his day in court, the people of Illinois are entitled to a functioning government and major decisions free of taint and controversy," said President-elect Obama.
He asked that Burris be judged on his own merits.
"Please don't allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man," Blagojevich said.
The governor avoided questions about the myriad public corruption charges swirling around him. While he's "enjoyed the limelight" of the last few weeks, Blagojevich tried to keep the focus on Burris.
After Burris danced around several questions about the myriad roadblocks he needs to overcome -- from Senate Democrats, state officials and others -- Rep. Bobby Rush, a Democrat who represents parts of Chicago, made a surprise appearance. Rush said Blagojevich had "answered his prayers" by appointing an African American to replace Obama, who had been the Senate's only African American member.
"It has tremendous national importance," Rush said of the appointment. "We need to have not just one African American in the US Senate, we need to have many African Americans in the US Senate."
Senate Democratic leaders released the following statement Tuesday:
“It is truly regrettable that despite requests from all 50 Democratic Senators and public officials throughout Illinois, Gov. Blagojevich would take the imprudent step of appointing someone to the United States Senate who would serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of impropriety. We say this without prejudice toward Roland Burris’s ability, and we respect his years of public service. But this is not about Mr. Burris; it is about the integrity of a governor accused of attempting to sell this United States Senate seat. Under these circumstances, anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus.While Senate Democrats can refuse to admit Burris as a member of the caucus, it remains unclear whether they can keep him out of the chamber altogether.
“Next week we will start one of the most important debates of the year – outlining an economic recovery plan to create jobs and invest in America. And in the coming weeks, we will be working to protect homeowners and consumers, make America more energy independent, strengthen our national security, and improve health care and educational opportunities. There is much work to do and a lot at stake. It is thus critical that Illinois and every other state have two seated Senators without delay.
“We again urge Gov. Blagojevich to not make this appointment. It is unfair to Mr. Burris, it is unfair to the people of Illinois and it will ultimately not stand. The governor must put the interests of the people of Illinois and all Americans first by stepping aside now and letting his successor appoint someone who we will seat.”
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White says he will refuse to certify any paperwork Blagojevich signs regarding the seat.
The governor apparently is ignoring warnings from Senate leaders that they would not seat anyone appointed by the allegedly corrupt governor.
An aide to Senate Majority leader Harry Reid tells Politico's Ben Smith that Reid views the pick as "unacceptable."
It remains unclear whether the Senate would be able to refuse Burris's appointment, although a 1969 Supreme Court case seems to suggest it would have to accept him. The case involves Adam Clayton Powell, who was re-elected to his House seat the prior year; the House tried to refuse to seat Powell based on allegations that he had misused the resources of his office. As MSNBC's First Read explains, Powell sued.
The Supreme Court ruled -- by a vote of 8 to 1 -- that the House was wrong and that Powell must be seated. The court said in deciding whether to exclude, Congress is limited to considering only whether a member meets the very minimal requirements for office set out in the Constitution.Sources tell the Tribune that Burris had expressed interest in the appointment in the days following Obama's election but was never seriously considered for the Senate seat. He apparently stepped up his campaign following news of Blagojevich's arrest on public corruption charges.
There have been other cases in which Congress refused to seat incoming members based on allegations of irregularities in elections, and many legal experts believe Congress has the Constitutional authority to examine potential election violations.
But given that Blagojevich is still legally the governor of Illinois and has the sole power to fill vacancies in the U.S. Senate, the Senate's power to refuse to seat his appointee may be far more limited than the leadership was implying.
Early reaction to the news indicates Burris has a fairly clean record after several decades in Illinois politics and that Blagojevich choose the best possible candidate if he insists on trying to make an appointment.
This video is from CNN.com, broadcast Dec. 30, 2008.
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