I'm sitting here, having watched and listened to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald take questions from the media in Chicago about the government's case against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and I'm not sure I've blinked throughout the entire news conference. The magnitude of the charges is astounding.
One question Fitzgerald wouldn't and, in reality, couldn't answer is what the state Legislature should do about Blagojevich's continuing power to name a Senate successor to Barack Obama. Even though the charges against the Democratic governor involve his alleged efforts to sell the seat to the highest bidder, Blagojevich is still the person with the authority to name the next senator which is, if nothing else, beyond surreal.
Some Illinois Democrats want that possibility eliminated. Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn called on Blagojevich not to resign but to "step aside" in effect taking the Senate appointment power out of his hands.
State Comptroller Dan Hynes (D) went further. He described the charges as "perhaps the most embarrassing moment in the history of Illinois government and a stain that will not be easily removed," and he called for Blagojevich to resign. "Our government's ability to deal on a daily basis with the fiscal and economic crises we currently face demands leadership and integrity," Hynes said in a statement. "Our governor cannot provide either, and he needs to do what's right for the people of Illinois."
The Illinois secretary of state, Jesse White (D), agreed, calling it the "honorable thing."
And if he doesn't resign?
State Rep. Jack Franks (D) said that the next step would be impeachment hearings in the House. "I'm not going to let it drag on. I'm just not going to let that happen," Franks said. "I'll do everything in my power to bring a swift conclusion to this dark episode." He was echoed by House GOP leader Tom Cross.
And then there's the solution offered by Dick Durbin, who with Obama's resignation is the only U.S. senator from Illinois.
NPR Senate correspondent David Welna reports that Durbin is calling for a special election to fill the Obama seat.
Durbin is calling on the Illinois state Legislature to meet as soon as possible and pass legislation with a big, vetoproof bipartisan majority calling for a special election. He says some broadly backed consensus replacement might emerge whom Blagojevich could appoint, but he thinks the odds are against it. Durbin also pointed out that voters will already be going to the polls for a special election to fill the House seat vacated by Obama's incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.
As the Democratic whip, it's in Durbin's interest to have Obama's replacement sworn in to the Senate as soon as possible that is, if it's a Democrat. Right now the Democrats have 57 seats for sure come Jan. 6, and Durbin says his priority is to get to 58 by having a replacement chosen soon by the voters of Illinois.