Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday named a former state attorney general to fill the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, igniting a racially-tinged fight among Democrats over whether to seat the man.
Mr. Blagojevich's pick, Roland Burris, would be the only black member of the Senate, and Rep. Bobby Rush, Illinois Democrat, dared Senate Democrats not to seat him.
"There are no African-Americans in the Senate, and I don't think any senator sitting in the Senate right now wants to go on record to deny one African-American to be seated in the U.S. Senate," Mr. Rush said.
But that's exactly what Senate Democrats, in a joint statement, said they would do.
"Anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus," said the Democrats, including Illinois' senior senator, Richard J. Durbin.
Mr. Obama himself said Mr. Burris cannot be seated.
"Roland Burris is a good man and a fine public servant, but the Senate Democrats made it clear weeks ago that they cannot accept an appointment made by a governor who is accused of selling this very Senate seat. I agree with their decision, and it is extremely disappointing that Governor Blagojevich has chosen to ignore it," he said in a statement from his vacation in Hawaii. He called on Mr. Blagojevich to resign.
Mr. Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on charges of trying to sell the empty seat in exchange for a job or other consideration for himself or his wife. The governor has vowed to fight the charges, and said Tuesday they should not affect Mr. Burris.
"Don't allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man," Mr. Blagojevich said at an afternoon press conference, adding he was "absolutely confident" the Senate would seat Mr. Burris.
Mr. Blagojevich said he was forced to make an appointment after the Illinois General Assembly failed to create another way of naming a senator.
"The law requires that the governor make an appointment of a United States senator," the governor said.
Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution grants Congress the ability to determine whether it will seat a member. In a Dec. 10 letter to Mr. Blagojevich, Senate Democrats warned the governor not to make an appointment and threatened not to seat anyone he did pick.
In the intervening weeks, though, the Illinois legislature rejected efforts to remove Mr. Blagojevich's ability to fill the empty seat.
Illinois Republicans already have begun calling Mr. Burris a "Blagojevich Democrat" and blamed state Democrats for going "back on their word" when they failed to strip the governor of his appointment powers.
In their joint statement, Senate Democrats said they did not disparage Mr. Burris' accomplishments, but said any Blagojevich appointment would be a distraction from pursuing Mr. Obama's change agenda.
"We again urge Gov. Blagojevich to not make this appointment. It is unfair to Mr. Burris, it is unfair to the people of Illinois, and it will ultimately not stand," the Democrats said, repeating their call for Mr. Blagojevich to resign as governor.
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