Obama Resigns Senate Seat
ROBERT SIEGEL, host.
President-elect Barack Obama has cleared the way for his successor in the U.S. Senate by resigning his seat early. That's ahead of next week's lame-duck session. In a statement today, Senator Obama said serving four years in the Senate had been one of the highest honors and privileges of his life. His successor will be named by Illinois' Democratic governor, Rod Blagojevich. Under state law, the governor's appointee will serve two years, wrapping up Senator Obama's turn. And joining us now to talk about this is NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea. So, Don, he didn't really have to make it official at this point. Why now?
DON GONYEA: Well - and again, no surprise whatsoever. He's got another job to fall back on.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GONYEA: But, you know, with that special session coming next week, it's hard to see how it would have been anything but awkward for him to be there. Awkward to be there, but also awkward to not be there, because they are going to be discussing some very weighty things in that lame-duck session. It's not necessarily the case where his vote would be critical to anything, but what happens by leaving now, we have at least six, possibly more, because there are some Senate races from...
SIEGEL: Where they're still counting, yes.
GONYEA: From Election Day where they're still counting. But at least six freshmen Democrats coming into the Senate. If this new Illinois Senator replacing Senator Obama gets sworn in an hour, a day, a week, whatever it is...
SIEGEL: There's seniority there.
GONYEA: According to the traditions and rules of the Senate, seniority really counts. So this can give Illinois - an Illinois senator a leg up. So that is probably the, you know, the main reason for doing it now.
SIEGEL: Any word at all from Governor Blagojevich about his choice?
GONYEA: No. But we do know it is his choice. He could appoint himself, though he has told us he would not appoint himself. We should also add that he is under investigation, and it might not be the most popular choice if he picked himself. He has said he would do it by the end of the year, but also the fact that this is happening now does lead us to believe that perhaps he does have someone in mind.
SIEGEL: He has not been the most popular man in Illinois in recent years. But he should have a lot of friends now, at least the ones who'd like to get that appointment from him.
GONYEA: My guess is he's getting some phone calls and...
SIEGEL: (Unintelligible) possibilities.
GONYEA: Yeah, and this person will serve. There won't be a special election at any point. So this is a really meaningful...
SIEGEL: Two years in the U.S. Senate.
GONYEA: It's two years in the U.S. Senate. One of the things he will be looking at, though, no doubt, is looking for a person who can win and hold onto this seat for the Democrats in a statewide election in 2010. But some of the names - we do know that Senator Obama's close adviser and friend Valerie Jarrett, an African-American woman, has said she is not interested.
SIEGEL: Not interested.
GONYEA: So we assume she's going to the White House, some sort of job there. The - I was going to say the Reverend - but Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr., the son of...
SIEGEL: The son of Reverend Jackson.
GONYEA: ...Reverend Jackson has been actively campaigning for this. The question is can he win statewide office? Illinois' state Senate president, Emil Jones, 73 years old, Senator Obama's mentor, would be seen as a possibility. But he would probably be a caretaker. And then it's wide open to election in two years. And a Republican could grab the seat at that point. U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky, her name is mentioned. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Here's an interesting one, Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth. She was a former candidate for the House. She now heads the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. All over the newspapers this week, she laid a wreath at a veterans' memorial with Senator Obama.
SIEGEL: Any word on when Senator Joe Biden will resign from his seat?
GONYEA: We have not heard. There is no truth to the rumor that he's trying to figure out how to hold on to that Senate seat that he has held virtually his entire life. He's going to miss the Senate. He has told us that. We haven't heard yet.
SIEGEL: OK. NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea. Thanks, Don.
GONYEA: My pleasure.
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