Obama To Resign Senate Seat Sunday President-elect Barack Obama has announced that he'll resign his Senate seat, effective Sunday. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, will appoint Obama's successor. Should the governor name an African American to replace the Senate's only African American member?
NPR logo

Obama To Resign Senate Seat Sunday

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/96993700/96993683" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Obama To Resign Senate Seat Sunday

Obama To Resign Senate Seat Sunday

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/96993700/96993683" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Sitting in for Renee Montagne, I'm Ari Shapiro.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. President-elect Barack Obama announced yesterday that he will resign from the Senate effective Sunday. He's got a bigger job to go on to. In his home state of Illinois, the announcement brings some attention to the man responsible for filling that seat. Chicago Public Radio's Benn Calhoun reports.

BENN CALHOUN: Recently, when asked who he wants to see complete the last two years of his term, President-elect Obama said he'd like to see someone with similar values to his. But he pointed out, it's not up to him.

President-Elect BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): This is the governor's decision. It is not my decision.

CALHOUN: The decision will be solely up to Governor Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, which at first might sound pretty simple.

Mr. RICH MILLER: (Editor, Publisher, Capitol Fax): This governor is not simple. He's impossible to predict on pretty much every level.

CALHOUN: Rich Miller is a newspaper columnist, and publishes and edits the Capitol Fax, the leading blog for Illinois state politics. In short, he makes a living watching, analyzing, and explaining Illinois politics. And so, I asked him, if you were explaining Rod Blagojevich to somebody out of state, how would you explain him as a governor?

Mr. MILLER: I'm not sure I could.

CALHOUN: Here's what makes Blagojevich so complicated. To begin with, there's the scandal. The governor is at the center of a massive federal corruption investigation. In the last few years, Blagojevich's friends and fundraisers have been subpoenaed, indicted, or gone to jail. The governor hasn't been charged, but the investigation has continued to get closer to him.

Mr. MILLER: The feds are just crawling all over his government.

CALHOUN: In addition, Blagojevich has toxic relationship with many state lawmakers, which has crippled state government and made him a bit of a political loner. The Chicago Tribune recently pegged Blagojevich's approval rating at 13 percent. And as Rich Miller notes, this is a Democratic state.

Mr. MILLER: George W. Bush, who has some of the highest disapproval ratings in history, is more popular than the governor in this state, and that really says something.

CALHOUN: Blagojevich's complicated situation makes the whole appointment process complicated. Especially since despite all his problems, Blagojevich says he plans to run for reelection.

Governor ROD R. BLAGOJEVICH (Democratic, Illinois): I love the people of Illinois more today than I did before, and if it's a case of unrequited love at this point I'll just have to work extra harder and get them to love me again.

CALHOUN: The Senate appointment is an opportunity for Blagojevich to help himself politically, either by endearing himself to a bloc of voters or to someone powerful. Since Obama is the Senate's only black member, one of the big questions is whether the governor will appoint an African-American to replace him.

Gov. BLAGOJEVICH: Hello. How are you? Let me just begin...

CALHOUN: Recently, Blagojevich talked with reporters about his plan for filling the Senate seat. He wouldn't say who's in the running, though he did say Senator Obama's opinion would carry a lot of weight.

Gov. BLAGOJEVICH: I would say around New Year's would be about as late as we'd go, and my hope would be to be able to make a final decision and an announcement sometime hopefully before Christmas.

CALHOUN: It's hard to predict who Blagojevich might name. But there's no shortage of possibilities. Some of the names thrown out there include Tammy Duckworth, Illinois director of Veterans Affairs and a double amputee Iraq war vet who ran for Congress in 2006. Other names in the mix, Illinois State Senate President Emil Jones, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. If you talk to people around Chicago, it seems they're not giving too much thought to the Senate seat, at least not yet. Medichy Bakery(ph) is close to Obama's high park area home, on Chicago's south side. Fritz Jean-Pierre is a doctor. He hops out of his double-parked car and runs into the bakery.

Dr. FRITZ JEAN-PIERRE (Doctor; Illinois Resident): I probably shouldn't be doing it , but I'm getting a cinnamon bun.

CALHOUN: Jean Pierre doesn't have a specific candidate in mind, but says something you'll hear repeatedly if you ask people around the city.

Dr. JEAN-PIERRE: I do think it would be nice to see another African-American or Latino, that it should be filled with someone either of minority decent or even a woman would be a nice option.

CALHOUN: When asked the other day about the appointment, the governor said he doesn't even have a shortlist yet. Blagojevich did point out that his current power has given people a reason to be nice to him at a time when he is dismally unpopular. The governor said, quote, "I've never had more friends than I do today, and when I make the final decision, I won't have nearly as many as I have now." For NPR News, I'm Benn Calhoun, in Chicago.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.