The messy corruption scandal involving Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is threatening to become a major headache for President-elect Barack Obama.
For a second day Wednesday, Obama was forced to respond to developments in the case involving Blagojevich, who was charged Tuesday with trying sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the president-elect after his victory in November.
Blagojevich’s arrest dominated U.S. media, overshadowing congressional efforts to hammer out a $15 billion bailout package for the troubled auto industry and pushing Obama’s work to finish assembling his new Cabinet out of the limelight.
Editorial pages expressed amazement at Blagojevich’s evident brazenness in his desire to make money out of the opportunity to fill Obama’s Senate seat.
“We have seen a lot of political hubris, scratch-my-back politics and sheer stupidity over the years,” The New York Times editorialized. “But nothing could prepare us for the charges brought Tuesday against Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois.”
The charges raised questions about how Obama’s Senate seat could be filled without the taint of the pending criminal case.
Obama joined other politicians Wednesday in calling for Blagojevich to resign, and he backed the idea of having the Illinois Legislature call a special election to fill the post.
“The president elect agrees … that under the current circumstances it is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois,” Obama spokesman Robet Gibbs said in an email.
It was the second time in as many days that Obama has tried to put distance between himself and his fellow Chicago Democrat. On Tuesday he denied having talked to Blagojevich about the Senate seat.
But the president-elect declined to say whether aides might have spoken to the governor or his staff, adding that it would be inappropriate to discuss the case further since it is under investigation.
Prosecutors said there was no indication at all of any Obama involvement.
But the scandal refused to go away. Obama adviser David Axelrod had to issue a statement retracting his comment last month that Obama had spoken to Blagojevich about the Senate seat, saying he had been wrong.
And news reports Wednesday said associates of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois, one of Obama’s national campaign co-chairs, may have discussed the Senate seat with Blagojevich.
Jackson denied any wrongdoing. “I did not initiatiate or authorize anyone at any time to promise anything to Gov. 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,” he told a news conference.
What do you think? Is Obama being hurt by the Illinois corruption case? Will this cause problems for his first days in office?
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Photo credit: Top: Reuters/John Gress (Blagojevich, left, Obama and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley during a rally in Chicago in April 2007); Bottom: Reuters/Jeff Haynes (Obama talks to media at his transition office office Dec. 9)