Disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday appointed former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to fill President-elect Obama's vacant Senate seat:
"The people of Illinois are entitled to have two United States senators represent them in Washington D.C.," Blagojevich said. "As governor I am required to make this appointment."
Watch the announcement:
In a move that could foreshadow a legal battle, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White says he will not certify the Burris appointment, Capitol Fax reports. Certification is required to be seated in the Senate:
As I have previously stated publicly, I cannot co-sign a document that certifies any appointment by Rod Blagojevich for the vacant United State Senate seat from Illiois.
Although I have respect for former Attorney General Roland Burris, because of the current cloud of controversy surrounding the Governor, I cannot accept the document.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement Tuesday that Burris will not be seated by the Democratic caucus:
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.
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.
And President-elect Obama echoed Reid in his own statement:
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.
There is debate over the Senate's ability to refuse Blagojevich's appointment:
In the past, the Senate has ruled on appointments where the power of an outgoing governor to make an appointment was unclear. But as of now, there seems little question that Blagojevich is still the governor; the state legislature has not changed the appointment power; and as of now, Blagojevich has not been convicted, or even indicted.
The former associate general counsel of the Federal Election Commission also views Burris' seating by the Senate as likely.
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, a once-active candidate for the appointment who removed himself from consideration after Blagojevich was arrested, called Burris "a good choice" in an interview with The Hill:
"He expressed confidence in his ability to have the trust of people to the extent that he could not only do a good job, but that he also could help restore trust," Davis said. [...] Davis said that he'd given up seeking the appointment several weeks ago because the taint of being selected by the governor would be too difficult to overcome.
"I knew how much time one would need to spend defending the decision. I didn't want to spend so much of my time dealing with that," Davis said.
"He had a slightly different perspective," Davis continued. "He was willing to go through it. I was not."
Burris was strongly critical of Blagojevich's alleged corruption as recently as two weeks ago. At a December 13th press conference touting his interest in the Senate seat, Burris castigated Blagojevich and praised Attorney General Lisa Madigan's since-thwarted attempt to have the Illinois Supreme Court declare Blagojevich unfit to serve:
"The evidence that's been presented is purely appalling," he said. "Should that come out to be the case of what our governor was attempting to do, I find it just reprehensible."
Watch Burris' remarks (via Progress Illinois):
So, who is Roland Burris?
Burris was the first African-American to win statewide office in Illinois in 1978 - as comptroller, a post he held for three terms. He served one term as Illinois Attorney General before running unsuccessfully for governor three times, losing to Blagojevich in the Democratic primary in 2002.
Blagojevich credits Burris with helping his victory in that race because of the large chunk of the African-American vote he steered away from runner-up Paul Vallas, Rich Miller notes on Capitol Fax:
Blagojevich privately credits Burris with playing a major role in the governor's 2002 Democratic primary win. Burris took the African-American vote away from Paul Vallas, who was always quite popular in the black community. Blagojevich finished behind Burris and Vallas in Chicago (he barely won his own congressional district), so Burris' spoiler role was crucial to Blagojevich's win.
He has donated thousands of dollars to Blagojevich's campaign fund in both personal donations and donations from his firm. His most recent contribution was June 27, 2008 -- when the governor was known to be under federal investigation.
In 2007, he contributed the maximum $2,300 to Obama's presidential campaign during the primary.