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Obama Calls For Blagojevich To Resign

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. President-elect Barack Obama is joining the chorus of Illinois politicians who are calling for Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich to resign. Federal authorities arrested Blagojevich yesterday. He faces a wide range of federal corruption charges. They include trying to sell Mr. Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder. Now it appears some of those interested in the job may have been willing to pay up. From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper reports on the latest developments in the Blagojevich investigation.

DAVID SCHAPER: As birthdays go, this can't be a good one. Governor Rod Blagojevich turns 52 today, and I'm standing outside of his North Side Chicago home, where there's a whole slew of reporters camped outside. A couple of news helicopters hover overhead as the people of Illinois wait to see what he'll do next.

Mr. JAY STEWART (Executive Director, Better Government Association): The governor should resign. And if he doesn't resign, the General Assembly should impeach him as fast as possible.

SCHAPER: Jay Stewart is executive director of the Better Government Association.

Mr. STEWART: He is unfit to lead the state of Illinois. He is incapable of governing.

SCHAPER: And it's not just good government types suggesting Blagojevich step down. Everyone from neighbors who say they feel betrayed all the way up to the president-elect of the United States, Barack Obama, whose spokesman said today, quote, that under the current circumstances, it is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois.

Illinois state legislative leaders agree. They've called for a special session to begin Monday to consider impeachment proceedings against Blagojevich if he doesn't resign. Lawmakers will also begin moving a bill to strip the governor of his authority to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama. Steve Brown is a spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Mr. STEVE BROWN (Spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan): I don't think Illinois can afford to let the Senate seat remain vacant and will move quickly. Hopefully, the governor will recognize this dilemma, and if the legislature passes the special election bill, that he'd sign it. But we have no guarantees.

SCHAPER: In fact, Blagojevich has been wildly unpredictable in his dealings with the legislature in recent years, most often clashing with members of his own party. And if the governor doesn't act on such legislation, it could be months before a new legislature is sworn in and can set a special election for the Senate seat. The impeachment process could take many months, too, meaning Blagojevich still has the power to appoint Illinois' next U.S. senator. But on Capitol Hill, Senate Democratic leaders warned Blagojevich in a letter that under no circumstances should he attempt to name a successor for Obama, suggesting that they would not allow that appointee to be seated.

And the Republican National Committee is calling on President-elect Obama to fully disclose all contacts between his transition team and the governor's office regarding the Senate seat. There have been inconsistencies between the comments of Mr. Obama and his chief strategist, David Axelrod, over communication with the governor about filling the open seat. In the meantime, there's more information today about the identities of the candidates for the Senate seat that Blagojevich is allegedly caught on tape talking about.

The criminal complaint alleges the governor told an adviser he might get some money upfront from someone identified as Candidate Five. Blagojevich says, quote, that he'd raise 500 grand, and the other guy would raise a million, end quote, if he made Candidate Five a senator. Attorneys for Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. confirmed that he is Candidate Number five, but Jackson denies he offered Blagojevich anything for the seat.

Representative JESSE JACKSON, Jr. (Democrat, Illinois): I did not initiate or authorize anyone at any time to promise anything to Governor Blagojevich on my behalf. I never sent a message or an emissary to the governor to make an offer, to plead my case, or to propose a deal about a U.S. Senate seat. Period.

SCHAPER: And Jackson went on to give the strong impression that regardless of all that has happened, he still wants to be and will campaign to be Illinois' next U.S. senator. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. 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.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.