Filling Obama's Senate Seat Gets Trickier

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) on bribery charges relating to the appointment of a senator to replace Barack Obama turns what was already a difficult situation into one fraught with political peril.

Under Illinois law, Blagojevich has sole power to choose Obama's replacement after the president-elect's decision to step aside last month. That right is not affected by his arrest today, although if he were to be convicted of the crimes alleged, he would be forced to vacate the office.

With the Senate set to reconvene in early January, Democrats are scrambling to devise a way to keep the appointment power from Blagojevich. The problem for Democrats is that any appointment Blagojevich made now would be badly damaged in the eyes of voters.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, suggested yesterday that the state's legislature pass a law mandating a special election to fill the seat. "No appointment by this governor could produce a credible replacement," Durbin said.

State Senate President Emil Jones Jr. said late yesterday that he will call the Senate into session to pass legislation creating a special election to fill Obama's seat. Jones cast the special election as an attempt to "help restore the confidence of the people of Illinois during this difficult time."

Alternatively, the legislature could begin impeachment proceedings against Blagojevich. A simple majority of the Illinois House would be required to pass such a measure, which would lead to a trial in the state Senate, to be overseen by the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. A two-thirds vote would be required to convict Blagojevich and formally impeach him.

If Blagojevich chose to resign, he would be replaced by Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, who would then be charged with naming the next senator. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a contender for the Senate appointment, called on Blagojevich to step aside, saying the charges against him are "very serious and damaging."

Before Blagojevich's arrest, the people considered most likely to receive the appointment included Schakowsky, retiring state Senate President Jones, Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., state Attorney General Lisa Madigan and state Department of Veterans Affairs chief Tammy Duckworth.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company