POLITICAL WIRE’S HEADLINES – 12/9

Illinois Legislature to Consider Special Election

The Illinois state House “is set to reconvene Monday to consider a bill that would fill President-elect Obama’s old Senate seat by special election,” according to The Hill.

“Emil Jones, the outgoing state Senate president, has also said he will call a special session of that chamber to take up the bill.”

Did Obama Talk to Blagojevich?

Though President-elect Obama said he had no contact with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich or his office regarding his replacement in the U.S. Senate, David Axelrod said something very different in a television interview, according to ABC News.

Said Axelrod: “I know he’s talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them.”

However, Axelrod maintained Obama had not expressed a favorite to replace him.

UpdateBen Smith says Patrick Fitzgerald “presumably knows the answer. If Obama spoke to Blagojevich in the last month or two, it’s on tape.”

Obama Comments on Blagojevich Arrest

From the pool report, filed by Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal:

At 1:55 p.m., the pool was brought into a sparse corner office of the transition headquarters in Chicago’s federal building. President-elect Obama sat in the middle, with Vice President-elect Joe Biden on his right and former Vice President Al Gore on his left. Three American flags were arrayed behind them. Mr. Obama then said, “Like the rest of the people of Illinois I am saddened and sobered by the news that came out of the U.S.. Attorneys office today. But as this is an ongoing investigation involving the governor, I donʼt think it would be appropriate for me to comment on the issue at this time.”

…the pool was about to be ushered out, when your pooler (I’ve been assured it was a classy act by certain members of the transition) shouted a question, asking if Mr. Obama was aware of what was happening with his Senate seat. Mr. Obama stopped the press and said he wanted to answer the question.

“I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so I was not aware of what was happening,” Mr. Obama said. “And as I said it is a sad day for Illinois. Beyond that I don’t think it’s appropriate to comment.”

At 2:00, the pool left the room.

Who is Senate Candidate 5?

With President-elect Obama apparently not willing to play ball with Gov. Rod Blagojevich over the Senate seat vacancy, today’s indictment suggests at least one public official was willing to “pay to play.”

Blagojevich is quoted: “That, you know, he’d raise me 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him (Senate Candidate 5) a Senator.”

Based on the timing, Rich Miller thinks Senate Candidate 5 is either state Senate President Emil Jones or Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-IL).

Marc Ambinder thinks it’s Jackson, but Ben Smith notes Jackson “isn’t particularly known as a fundraising specialist, but Jones… has money in his State Senate account that could be transferred to Blagojevich.”

Durbin Calls for Special Election

Political Wire has learned that Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) will ask the Illinois state legislature to pass a law allowing voters to fill President-elect Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat.

UpdateThe Hotline notes the Illinois Constitution “requires that the sitting governor alone has the power to appoint Pres.-elect Barack Obama’s Senate replacement. Unless Gov. Rod Blagojevich decides to step aside pending a trial, he will name Obama’s successor. Or, of course, the state Legislature could move to impeach him.”

Bonus Quote of the Day

“If it isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States, it’s certainly one hell of a competitor. Even the most cynical agents in our office were shocked.”

— FBI special agent Robert Grant, quoted by the Chicago Tribune, characterizing Illinois’ place “in the pantheon of political corruption.”

Kennedy Favorite for Clinton Seat

A new Public Policy Polling survey of New York Democrats finds Caroline Kennedy favored as the person Gov. David Paterson should pick to fill Sen. Hillary Clinton’s soon to be vacant U.S. Senate seat. 

Kennedy has 44% support, followed by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo at 23% and Rep. Kristen Gillibrand at 6%.

Analysis: “Cuomo and Kennedy definitely seem like they would be the candidates most suited to quickly being able to raise the money they would need to run for reelection consecutively in 2010 and 2012, and they also come to the table with the highest level of popularity. Paterson couldn’t go wrong politically by appointing either of the pair.”

What Did Obama Know?

President-elect Obama’s transition office has yet to comment on the news of thearrest of Gov. Rod Blogojevich, but there is some suspicion that the Obama team at least knew of the investigation.

Transcripts of wiretap conversations suggest that the governor had conversations with Obama’s transition team about Senate Candidate 1. Marc Ambinder makes a very strong case that this “is probably senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.” 

In fact, just days after the presidental election, there were reports that Obama favored Jarrett for the Senate appointment. However, it’s also clear from the complaint that the transition team refused to play ball with Blagojevich. The complaint states the governor said he knows 
that Obama wanted Senate Candidate 1 for the Senate seat but “they’re not willing 
to give me anything except appreciation. F_ _  _  them.” 

As Ben Smith notes, Jarrett’s “abrupt withdrawal from consideration for the Senate seat suggests Obama’s circle aware of the investigation” and wanted to distance themselves from any contacts with Blogojevich.

Quote of the Day

“I want to make money.”

— Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps over the last month conspiring to trade his state’s vacant U.S. Senate seat for personal benefits.

Blagojevich Taken Into Custody

The Chicago Tribune reports that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) was taken into federal custody at his home this morning. The governor’s chief of staff was also arrested.

Both men were accused of a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy that included Blagojevich conspiring to sell or trade the Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Obama in exchange for financial benefits for the governor and his wife. Specifically, prosecutors say Blagojevich sought appointment as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the new Obama administration, or a lucrative job with a union in exchange for appointing a union-preferred candidate.

The governor was also accused of obtaining campaign contributions in exchange for other official actions.

Kennedy Working to Get Niece Appointed

“While Caroline Kennedy is maintaining her public silence about whether she wishes to succeed Senator Hillary Clinton, her uncle, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), has been working behind the scenes on her behalf,” the New York Times reports.

“Mr. Kennedy’s message, according to Democratic aides who were not authorized to discuss the conversations, is that Ms. Kennedy — backed by the Kennedy family’s extensive fund-raising network — would have the wherewithal to run back-to-back costly statewide races without having to seek help from Mr. Paterson or Mr. Schumer.”

Update: Kennedy’s office denies the story and says he has not contacted Gov. Paterson.

Fosella Headed to Jail

Rep. Vito Fossella (R-NY), “the one-time boy wonder of Staten Island politics, was ordered on Monday to serve five days in a Virginia jail cell after being found guilty of drunken driving in a case that upended his career,” the New York Times reports.

After his arrest, Fossella acknowledged “that he had been on his way to visit a child he had fathered in an extramarital affair.”

Amid the scandal, Fosella abandoned his re-election bid, clearing the way for Michael McMahon (D) to win Mr. Fossella’s seat in last month’s election. McMahon is the first Democrat in 28 years to win the NY-13 seat.

Obama Gets Sky High Approval Rates

A new CNN poll finds 79% of Americans approve of President-elect Obama’s performance so far during transition, with just 18% disapproving.

Obama’s approval rating is 14 points higher than the approval rating for President-elect George Bush in 2001 and 17 points higher than President-elect Clinton’s rating in 1992.

Said analyst Bill Schneider: “An Obama job approval rating of 79% — that’s the sort of rating you see when the public rallies around a leader after a national disaster. To many Americans, the Bush administration was a national disaster.”

Obama Likely to Name Energy-Environment Team Next

President-elect Obama will likely announce his energy and environment team this week, according to CQ Politics

The announcement “probably will come Wednesday or Thursday.”

“Obama is expected to introduce his nominees for Energy secretary, Interior secretary and head of the EPA together, in keeping with a pattern of announcing ‘teams’ for particular issue clusters. He already has named his economics and national security teams.”

Bonus Quote of the Day

“I’m just a simple president.”             (HE FINALLY GOT SOMETHING RIGHT!!)

— President Bush, in an interview with ABC News.

Public Split on Auto Bailout

“While a majority of Americans believe that bankruptcy for U.S. automakers would have a major impact on the economy, they are evenly split about the prospect of government financial assistance for the big three,” a new CBS News poll finds.

“Forty-five percent of those surveyed approve of government assistance for Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, while nearly as many — 44 percent — disapprove.”

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