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Blagojevich defies critics by naming Senator

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Blagojevich defies critics by naming Senator

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

By Stern and Pierog

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich defied fellow

Democrats by appointing a successor on Tuesday to fill Barack Obama's

vacant U.S. Senate seat -- the seat the governor is charged with

trying to sell to the highest bidder.

The move, which a top state official and Senate Democrats vowed to

block, revived the turmoil tied to the embattled governor that has

distracted Obama and his team ahead of the U.S. president-elect's

inauguration on January 20.

Blagojevich, ignoring warnings from within his own party not to make

an appointment to Obama's empty seat, named Roland Burris, 71, a

former Illinois attorney general, fellow Democrat and frequent


" It's a very shrewd political move on the governor's part, " political

analyst Don Rose said. " The Senate has said it won't accept anybody

that he proposes, but here they've come up with an African-American

with deep roots in the black community. "

Obama, who will take office as the first black president in U.S.

history, said he agreed with the position of the Senate Democrats,

adding it was " extremely disappointing " that Blagojevich chose to

ignore them.

" 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, " Obama said in a statement.

Blagojevich was arrested by FBI agents on December 9 on charges he

attempted to solicit campaign contributions and other political

favors. Prosecutors said court-approved wiretaps show he was anxious

to trade the Senate seat for campaign cash, a high-paid job, an

ambassadorship or cabinet post.

The governor has denied doing anything wrong, dismissing calls to

resign and give up his sole power to make the Senate appointment,

which will last until 2010.

" Please don't allow the allegations against me to taint this good and

honest man, " Blagojevich told a raucous news conference disrupted by

shouts from Burris supporters.

Illinois Secretary of State White, another black Democrat, said

he would not sign off on the appointment's paperwork, which could

stop it from going forward.

Democratic leaders in the Senate said they would try to block Burris

because he would " serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of

impropriety. "

Members could refuse to administer the oath of office and refer the

matter to a committee to investigate.

When the Senate reconvenes next, Democrats will hold at least 57 of

the 100 seats. With a cloud over the Illinois seat and a Minnesota

race still undecided, Democrats will still fall short of the 60 votes

needed to clear procedural roadblocks.


Blagojevich's appointment revived calls among Democrats for the

governor to either resign or be impeached quickly, while Republicans

sought to fill the seat with a special election.

" The next senator of Illinois should be chosen in the light of day

through a special election, and not in the back rooms of Washington

or Springfield, " said Sen. Cornyn of Texas.

But a special election was unlikely due to the high cost and amount

of time involved, said Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois House

Speaker Madigan. He said impeachment proceedings that began

two weeks ago were well under way.

Blagojevich said he was compelled to appoint Burris because the

Illinois legislature had put off a special election.

Congressman Bobby Rush, a black Democrat from Chicago who previously

defeated Obama in a congressional election, urged senators not to

block the appointment of Burris.

" So I applaud the governor for his decision. And I will ask you to

not hang and lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the

appointer, " said Rush, who attended the press conference.

Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, also a Democrat, again urged Blagojevich

to resign or be impeached, which would make Quinn governor.

Quinn called Tuesday's appointment " provocative " and said Burris made

a mistake by accepting.

Burris, a lawyer, was the first African-American elected to statewide

office in Illinois in 1978 when he was voted state comptroller. He

was state attorney general from 1991 to 1995.

He has run unsuccessfully several times for higher office, including

a bid for the Senate in 1984 and governor in 1994.

Burris and his political consulting firm have donated about $15,000

to Blagojevich's campaigns since 2002.

(Additional reporting by Ferraro; Editing by Bohan and


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