Blagojevich Names Roland Burris as Replacement for Barack Obama in Illinois Senate Seat

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Blagojevich Names Roland Burris as Replacement for Barack Obama in Illinois Senate Seat

by
Ewen MacAskill

Former Illinois attorney general Roland W Burris. (Photograph: AFP/Getty)

Democratic anger and embarassment in the debacle over Barack Obama's vacant US Senate seat deepened tonight as the disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich named Roland Burris, a 71-year-old former Illinois attorney-general, to replace Obama.

The
extraordinary move at a press conference tonight will amount to the
biggest demonstration of contempt so far by Blagojevich for his own
party and public opinion.

Democratic leaders in the US Senate said they will not allow anyone appointed by Blagojevich to take the vacant seat.

Blagojevich,
as governor, is legally entitled to make the appointment. But anyone
appointed by him will be automatically tainted.

At the press
conference, he said he was "required" to make the appointment,
otherwise Illinois would be deprived of a voice in the US Senate.

He
described Burris as having unquestioned integrity and extensive
experience. He pleaded for Burris's appointment to be treated
separately from the scandal.

"Do not allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man," Blagojevich said.

Burris tried to distance himself from the scandal: "I have no reslationship with the situation."

But
the press conference was undercut when it emerged that Burris and the
legal company he works for had donated $14,000 (£9,700) to
Blagojevich's election campaign.

Burris said he had not realised it was that much: "I will have to check the records."

Blagojevich
was arrested earlier this month after federal investigators, in a
wiretap, was allegedly heard trying to trade Obama's seat for a
political favour such as a post in his cabinet or an ambassadorship.

Although
Blagojevich is to fight the charges, Democratic and Republican
legislators in Illinois have already begun impeachment proceedings to
force him out of office.

A recent opinion poll showed 84% of the Illinois public wanted him to resign.

The
row is casting a shadow over Obama's inauguration on January 20. The
electorate, tired of the Republicans after almost eight years of
President Bush, voted not only for Obama as president but for Democrats
in the House and Senate. But the publicity about the murky world of
Chicago politics from which Obama emerged is damaging both him and the
party, and there is no end in sight.

An aide to Obama said he was surprised by Blagojevich's move.

After
Blagojevich was charged, the Democratic party discussed whether the
appointment should be made by someone other than Blagojevich or whether
a special election should be held.

Burris was the first
African-American to win a state-wide election in Illinois and to become
the first African-American attorney-general in the state. But he lost a
series of Democratic primary contests, though he stresses he has not
lost to a Republican. He failed in bids for the governor's post in
1994, 1998 and 2002.

Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the US
Senate, and all the other Democrats signed a letter after Blagojevich's
arrest saying they would not allow anyone appointed by the governor to
take up the seat.

A spokesman for Reid tonight said such an appointment would be "unacceptable".

Blagojevich
may be trying to show he is still in charge or be intent on making a
nuisance of himself to force the party into make a deal with him.

The
move is a surprise because his lawyer, Edward Genson, said a fortnight
ago he would not attempt to make an appointment given that the
Democratic leaders in the Senate had said they would not accept such an
appointment.

Obama's team was in contact with Blagojevich about
who would fill the seat, in particular whether the post should go to
his friend, Val Jarrett, who dropped out of contention after being
named as a senior White House adviser. An internal report by Obama's
team published last week found there had been no offer of a quid pro
quo between his team and Blagojevich.

Several other Senate seats are up for grabs following Obama's appointment of senators to his cabinet.

The
battle for Hillary Clinton's vacant US Senate seat has also created
embarrassment for the Democrats after a series of lacklustre interviews
with one of the favourites, Caroline Kennedy.

Kennedy's stumbling
performance has been widely viewed on YouTube while a transcript of a
weekend interview with the New York Times revealed she used the phrase
'you know' 144 times.

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