- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama said Thursday he will resign his Senate seat effective Sunday, and speculation turned to who will replace the Illinois Democrat.

Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, a Democrat, will appoint a replacement to fill the rest of Mr. Obama’s term, which expires in 2010.

The top candidates to replace him are Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran and double amputee who now serves as the secretary of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs; Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Illinois Democrat; Rep. Jan Schakowsky, also an Illinois Democrat; and Valerie Jarrett, a real estate CEO and close friend of the Obama family who is serving as co-chair of the Obama transition.

Mr. Obama’s resignation comes before an expected lame-duck session of Congress and it means he will not have to face questions about whether he will return to Washington to vote on matters such as a second stimulus package or aid for automakers.

“It has been one of the highest honors and privileges of my life to have served the people of Illinois in the United States Senate,” Mr. Obama said in a statement issued by his transition office.

There are currently 49 Democrats and 49 Republicans in the Senate, with two independents who both caucus with the Democrats. Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., a senator from Delaware, also must resign his seat before the Jan. 20 inauguration.

If both seats are vacated at the same time and neither is immediately filled, that could put Democrats at a disadvantage during a potential lame-duck session, which is likely to occur next week.

Mr. Biden met for an hour Thursday with the man he will replace, Vice President Dick Cheney. The vice president-elect and his wife, Jill, visited Mr. Cheney and his wife, Lynne, at the vice-president’s official residence on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington.

In greetings exchanged as the Bidens arrived, the vice president-elect called Mr. Cheney “Mr. Vice President,” and Mr. Cheney called Mr. Biden, “Joe.”

Mr. Biden also secured the help of a former top aide to Vice President Al Gore, Ronald A. Klain, who agreed to be Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, the same position he held under Mr. Gore, according to Democratic sources.

Prior to becoming Mr. Gore’s chief of staff in 1995, Mr. Klain oversaw judicial appointments for President Clinton and served as chief of staff to Attorney General Janet Reno, and during the 2000 presidential recount Mr. Klain oversaw the Gore legal effort.

Mr. Biden spoke to several world leaders earlier in the week, the transition office announced for the first time Thursday.

The vice president-elect on Monday spoke by phone with the three Israeli leaders who are vying for their country’s prime minister spot: Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Benjamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister and current Likud party leader.

Also on Monday, Mr. Biden spoke by phone with Polish President Lech Kaczynski, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden spoke by phone with King Abdullah II of Jordan.

And it was announced that Mr. Obama will on Friday sit for his first interview since becoming president-elect. He and his wife Michelle Obama will speak to Steve Kroft of the CBS News program, “60 Minutes,” for an interview to air Sunday night.

The National Park Service said it is expecting at least one million people on the national Mall for Mr. Obama’s Jan. 20 inauguration, the Associated Press reported.

The Park Service said that President Johnson’s 1965 inauguration drew an estimated crowd of 1.2 million, the largest they have counted.

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