Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Blagojevich Appoints Burris To Senate Seat


Just about half an hour ago, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich made an unexpected announcement.

Governor ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Democrat, Illinois): So, I'm here today to announce that I am appointing Roland Burris as the next United States Senator from Illinois. He has had a long and distinguished career serving the people of Illinois. He will be a great United States Senator.

CONAN: The elephant in that room in Chicago, of course, is that Governor Blagojevich faces criminal charges that include allegations that he tried to sell that very appointment to the highest bidder. And Senate leaders - Democrats - have already vowed to reject anyone that Governor Blagojevich appoints. NPR Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving joins us here in studio 3A to talk about this. Ron, thanks very much for coming in.

RON ELVING: Good to be with you Neal.

CONAN: And is this as brazen a move as it appears?

ELVING: Yes, it is as brazen a move as one could imagine. Here's a governor who has been urged to resign by everyone in politics in Illinois, more or less, and who has been urged to resign by every Democratic senator in the United States Senate, bar none. He has been urged not to make this specific appointment or to make any appointment and he has been told that the Senate will not seat anyone he appoints. And he goes ahead and does it anyway.

CONAN: And who has he named?

ELVING: He has named Roland Burris, who is a very familiar figure in Chicago politics. And by the way - full disclosure - I grew up in Chicago and attended Budlong grammar school on Foster Avenue. And this is a man everyone in Chicago knows. He was the first statewide elected African-American political figure. He was the state comptroller, going back all the way to 1979, and he held that office for twelve years. He was the state's first African-American attorney general in the early 1990s.

He's also run for a number of offices he did not win. He was denied the Democratic nomination for the senate in 1984, three times for the governorship, including most recently, when he ran against Rod Blagojevich and for mayor in 1995. So he's become something of a perennial candidate and he is now in his 70s.

CONAN: Given that pedigree though, isn't it going to be difficult for the United States Senate to sit there and say, I'm sorry, we're going to reject you?

ELVING: It isn't just the pedigree. Also, Bobby Rush, a Congressman from Chicago's south side, got up at the end of this news conference and made an extraordinarily blatant point about this being the only African-American in the United States Senate, if he is seated, and it being a non-integrated, if you will, United States Senate, if Ronald Burris is refused. So, he put the gauntlet of race right squarely in front of the United States Senate, which Rod Blagojevich had not been quite so obvious about. But Bobby Rush made sure that was smack in everybody's face.

CONAN: And so, clearly Governor Blagojevich is not without political support, but what could possibly be the motivation for Mr. Burris to accept this appointment, which - it's hard to see it would bear fruit?

ELVING: Well, as I say, he has tried five times for the Democratic nomination for offices more covetable than the ones that he has already held - governor, senator, mayor - and he made it clear earlier this month, when virtually everyone else on the political landscape ran away from Rod Blagojevich and said well, however interested I might have been in being an appointed United States senator before, now that we know that this office was up for auction, I'm not interested and I don't want to talk about it. Well, Roland Burris made a point at the time of saying well, I'm still interested. So, in that room of not very many people, he was still available.

CONAN: And as we look ahead to this, what is the process? Governor Blagojevich has to name him? Does he go through any state office before he comes to Washington and is there a vote on the floor of the senate? What happens?

ELVING: The secretary of state is required, in the state of Illinois, to make a certification with respect to this appointment and that official has already said that that's a non-starter. So, there will be some legal question, I believe, before the issue actually arrives at the United States Senate, so that may be something of a buffer for Harry Reid and the rest of the Democrats. And by the way, the number two Democratic leader in the Senate is Dick Durbin.

CONAN: The other senator from Illinois.

ELVING: That is correct, and someone who has been friends with Roland Burris and Bobby Rush for a very long time and whom they consider to be a confidante. They think maybe they can turn him. Thus far, he's standing with Reid and the rest of the Democratic senators.

CONAN: Well, stay tuned for more on this later today. From NPR News, Ron Elving, thanks very much.

ELVING: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Ron Elving, NPR senior Washington editor with us here in studio 3A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. 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.