It's Unclear How Next Ill. Senator Will Get The Job

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Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been charged with seeking bribes from candidates for the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. There could be a special election to fill the vacancy. Legislative leaders plan a special session to strip Blagojevich of his power to pick the new U.S. senator. There are fears that the governor will still try to appoint someone.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's follow up now on the corruption scandal in Illinois and some other political matters. We know that Governor Rod Blagojevich was caught on tape allegedly bargaining away a U.S. Senate seat. Now we're learning how many more politicians might be affected by the news or at least named in the story, which is something no politician would want. NPR news analyst Juan Williams is here. Juan, good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. This criminal complaint mentioned five politicians who were allegedly possible candidates for the Senate seat. How many names are known?

WILLIAMS: Well, two are known that - the number one candidate was Valerie Jarrett, who was President-elect Obama's choice for this seat. And now we know that candidate number five was Jessie Jackson, Jr., the congressman from Illinois. And in the federal complaint, he was described as someone who was willing to raise half a million dollars for the governor in exchange for the seat. Now, the congressman said yesterday that that's not true. He didn't send any message. He didn't send any emissary to do it.

The second thing to consider here is that now for President-Elect Obama, he's going to be dogged by this scandal for some time, Steve. He said he didn't speak to the governor about it, about Valerie Jarrett, or anything else. But as you know, David Axelrod, his top political adviser, said that he had spoken with Governor Blagojevich. And so the question now becomes if he did, and what comes out in the tapes from the U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, is this going to be a problem for the president-elect?

We also learned yesterday that John Wyma, who's a lobbyist in Chicago, was the one who went to Fitzgerald in October. And he went to Fitzgerald with the corruption charges because he found out that a hospital executive was being held up for $500,000 from the governor in exchange for getting an $8 million grant for this - a grant for the hospital.

INSKEEP: Oh, that's suggesting that this scandal is about more than a Senate seat. This is a governor...

WILLIAMS: It is. It's about a governor who was corrupt across the board, apparently.

INSKEEP: And let's add the word allegedly - allegedly - innocent until proven guilty here, of course. Let me ask about something else. Richard Durbin, the Illinois senator, the sitting Illinois senator, says there's got to be a special election for this Senate seat. If there was, would that give Republicans a chance to come back by going for victory in a state where Democrats are tainted with corruption here?

WILLIAMS: It would. I mean, obviously, the previous governor, George Ryan, was a Republican, and he's in jail as we speak. But what you have here is a situation now where this is the immediate scandal and so many Democrats have been tainted by it. Lisa Madigan, the state attorney general, says she's considering filing a complaint with the state Supreme Court declaring Blagojevich unfit to serve at the moment. And then the state legislature is also considering impeachment proceedings. So, what you've got here is what Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn calls a crisis. And he himself, along with President-elect Obama have called on Blagojevich to immediately resign.

INSKEEP: Juan Williams, very briefly, what's happening with another likely Senate vacancy? If Hillary Clinton is confirmed as secretary of state, she leaves the U.S. Senate from New York.

WILLIAMS: Lot of star power right there, Steve. In New York, everyone's watching Governor David Paterson very closely, given the events that have been taking place in Illinois. The two leading candidates - Caroline Kennedy, the former president's daughter; and Andrew Cuomo, the former governor of New York, Mario Cuomo's, son who is now the attorney general - in a Maris poll that was done this week, Caroline Kennedy actually leads about 31 to 21 among Democrats.

The question, though, is who can raise money and who's willing to go up to upstate New York and work hard, because they're aiming to hold that seat in 2010. And again, as you point out, Republicans are looking and saying, hey, wait a second, we think we could do pretty well.

INSKEEP: Oh, and a lot of times when someone is appointed to a Senate seat, they do not go out and raise money and do that work, and they lose as soon as they do come up for election.

WILLIAMS: Exactly. They've got to do a great job of raising money. And Paterson, of course, is going to run for re-election. He was - you know, he got the seat because of Eliot Spitzer's problems. He wants to make sure he has a strong ally going into 2010.

INSKEEP: Juan, thanks for your analysis this morning.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Juan Williams.

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