Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's Official: Ill. Gov. Blagojevich Picks Burris To Succeed Obama In The U.S. Senate...

Blago: 'I Am Required To Make This Appointment'

By: Carrie Budoff Brown and Mike Allen of Politico.com
December 30, 2008

Setting up a clash with Senate Democrats, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced Tuesday that he would appoint former state attorney general and comptroller Roland Burris to fill out President-elect Barack Obama's term in the U.S. Senate.

Saying Illinois should not be “deprived” of the representation of two senators, Blagojevich introduced Burris as “someone with unquestioned integrity.” The governor defended his decision to make the appointment as part of his gubernatorial responsibility to fill Senate vacancies.

“I would like to ask everyone to do one last thing: Don’t allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man,” Blagojevich said at a 3 p.m. press conference.

The move was met with a rebuke from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who said the Democratic Caucus would refuse the appointment from a governor who stands accused of selling the position to the highest bidder.

“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,” Reid said in a statement.

In addition, Jesse White, the Illinois secretary of state, said he will not certify Burris as the replacement for Obama’s seat.

For his part, Burris said it’s inconceivable that the state of Illinois should start the new Congress “shorthanded,” with just one senator.

Burris also said he has “no relationship” to charges that Blagojevich tried to sell Obama’s Senate seat for personal gain and said of the governor, “In this legal process, you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty.”

Blagojevich's lawyer had said earlier that the governor did not plan to defy the Senate leaders and impose an Obama successor on them.

Rep. Bobby Rush, the longtime Southside congressman, attended the press conference and was called up to the podium by Burris where he unmistakably dared white officials to not seat an African-American.

“Let me just remind you that there presently is no African-American in the U.S. Senate.,” said Rush, an African-American, after Blagojevich and Burris had spoken. “Let me remind you that the state of Illinois…in their collective wisdom have sent two African-Americans to the United States Senate. That makes a difference. This is just not a state of Illinois matter…. But, indeed, by this decision it has tremendous national importance.”

As for Blagojevich, Rush said: “I would ask you to not hang or lynch the appointee while you castigate the appointer” — a line the governor appeared to appreciate, as he repeated it off-mic as he left the press conference.

He also said no senator would “want to go on record to deny one African-American from being seated in the U.S. Senate.”

Obama so far has not commented on Blagojevich’s move. But the comments by Rush, the senior African-American in the Illinois delegation, puts Obama in a difficult position.

Until the congressman showed up at the press conference, the president-elect and other Democrats had been able to isolate Blagojevich. Now Obama is caught between Senate leadership and two leading African-Americans in his home state.

Reid (D-Nev.) has said that Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn should make the appointment, and the Senate Democratic caucus signed a letter supporting that option.

Reid said in a letter to the governor: "Please understand that should you decide to ignore the request of the Senate Democratic Caucus and make an appointment we would be forced to exercise our Constitutional authority under Article I, Section 5, to determine whether such a person should be seated."

Blagojevich's lawyer, Ed Genson, had told a news conference Dec. 17 that the governor did not plan to try to make the appointment. "Harry Reid said that they're not going to accept anybody, so why would he do that?" Genson said.

Burris, 71, told reporters earlier this month that he only wanted to serve the remaining two years of the Senate term and would not run for reelection.

Burris was the first African-American to be elected to statewide office in Illinois, serving as comptroller from 1983 to 1991 and as attorney general from 1991 to 1995.

He also ran against Blagojevich for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002 — winning the support of much of Illinois African-American political establishment, including then-state Sen. Obama.

Another complication in the selection is that Burris is a registered lobbyist in Illinois and Washington, D.C. His Chicago-based firm, Burris & Lebed, is registered in Springfield to represent clients ranging from Comcast to the Illinois Funeral Directors Association. In 2007, the firm was also registered to represent the Illinois Association of Mortgage Bankers. The firm is registered in both Springfield and Washington to represent MicroSun Technologies, an Illinois-based maker of battery and power supplies.

Burris’ lobbying partner is Fred Lebed, a veteran Democratic political operative who once served as executive director of the Cook County party and has also held a number of state government posts.

Blagojevich has been under pressure to resign from office, or at least relinquish his gubernatorial authority to fill Senate vacancies. He has remained in office, however, as he fights a federal corruption investigation and a legislative effort to impeach him.

The two-term governor has denied any wrongdoing.

It’s unclear whether Reid has the power to block Burris’ appointment. Senate leaders discussed the impending announcement on a conference call Tuesday afternoon.

John Fortier, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in a Politico Ideas piece this month that the Senate doesn’t have the power to reject the appointment.

“The Senate would have little recourse but to seat Blagojevich, as he meets the minimum constitutional qualifications for office,” Fortier wrote of the possibility that the governor might appoint himself. “But after seating Blagojevich, the Senate could then expel him by a two-thirds vote. The seat would be vacant again, and the new governor could make an appointment. Or by then, the Legislature might have changed the law to do away with appointments, in which case the seat would sit vacant until a special election was held."

The office of the Senate historian referred questions Tuesday to the Senate counsel, saying it is a legal matter.

© 2008 Capitol News Company, LLC

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