The Political Strategy Behind Gov. Blagojevich's Defiance

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," December 30, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

JAMIE COLBY, FOX NEWS GUEST HOST: And this is a "FOX News Alert." A small plane crashes in New Jersey just 50 yards away from a home in Alexandria (ph) township, and one of the two people on board was killed, the other passenger trapped. Crews raced to get him out. He's seriously injured and now on his way to the hospital. More on this breaking story as we have it.

And tonight, a bold act of defiance. The embattled governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, name former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to fill President-elect Obama's vacant Senate seat.

I'm Jamie Colby. I'm in for Greta Van Susteren tonight.

Senate Democrats vowing to block a potential nomination earlier this month and repeating their intention to do so today, President-elect Obama supporting the senators opposing the nomination, but Governor Blagojevich and his nominee both not backing down.


GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), ILLINOIS: Thank you very much. Merry Christmas. Happy holidays. Happy new year. Feliz navidad y prospero ano nuevo.

The people of Illinois are entitled to have two United States senators represent them in Washington, D.C. As governor, I am required to make this appointment. If I don't make this appointment, then the people of Illinois will be deprived of their appropriate voice and vote in the United States Senate.

Therefore, I am here to announce my intention to appoint an individual who has unquestioned integrity, extensive experience, and is a wise and distinguished senior statesman of Illinois. This man actually once was an opponent of mine for governor. So I'm here today to announce that I am appointing Roland Burris as the next United States senator from Illinois.

Roland Burris is no stranger to the people of our state. Between 1979 and 1992, he served the people of Illinois as the state's comptroller and the state's attorney general. He has had a long and distinguished career serving the people of Illinois. He will be a great United States senator.

And now I'd like to ask everyone to do one last thing. Please don't allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man.

ROLAND BURRIS (D), FORMER ILLINOIS ATTORNEY GENERAL: I talked with the governor on Sunday night when he asked if he were to appoint me, would I accept, and my answer was yes.

I have no comment on what the governor's circumstance is. And as a former attorney general of this state, I know and I think most of you all know that in this legal process, you're innocent until you're proven guilty .

BLAGOJEVICH: Let me say a couple things. I've enjoyed the limelight I've had over the last couple of weeks. I think it's been -- I don't want to hog the limelight. This is Roland Burris's day, so I don't think it's appropriate for me to really get involved in answering any questions.

Let me say again that the law requires that the governor make an appointment of a United States senator in the absence of any other law that would have given the people of Illinois a chance to be able to elect the successor to the United States Senate. And when the legislature didn't act on the legislation they said they were considering, which I supported, which would have given the people the right to be able to elect the next senator -- failing that, then it's the governor's responsibility to fill the vacancy.


COLBY: And then in a dramatic case of political theater, Illinois congressman Bobby Rush making a surprise appearance today, taking the podium and defending the nomination.


REP. BOBBY RUSH (D), ILLINOIS: This is a matter of national importance. There are no African-Americans in the Senate, and I don't think that anyone, any U.S. Senator who's sitting in the Senate right now, want to go on record to deny one African-American from being seated in the U.S. Senate. I don't think they want to go on record doing that.


COLBY: And that certainly must have caused pause for some senators thinking about that. But not supporting the action, the lieutenant governor of Illinois, who immediately slammed Blagojevich.


PAT QUINN, ILLINOIS LT. GOVERNOR: I think it's important for the people of Illinois and the people of our country to stand firm against Rod Blagojevich. His kind of politics is not the politics of the people of Illinois. It's not the politics of the people of the United States of America. We believe in clean government, and Rod Blagojevich has unclean hands and he should not be able to make an appointment to any office whatsoever. He should be impeached and convicted with speed by the Illinois Senate and removed from office.


COLBY: Well, joining me now, Bill Sammon, FOX News Washington deputy managing editor. Bill, it was an explosive afternoon. I have so many questions to ask, but my first is, what is next for the appointee?


COLBY: Yes, for Roland Burris. What happens from here for him?

SAMMON: I think what'll happen is the Democratic leaders of the U.S. Senate will move to block his appointment, and then he and Governor Blagojevich will sue to see that the appointment actually -- to see that he is actually seated. And my suspicion is that this will wind its way up to the Supreme Court that will ultimately decide in Blagojevich's favor because -- I'm not a constitutional attorney, but I can't find anything in the Constitution that allows the Senate to prevent such a person from being seated.

If there's no controversy about the election -- there wasn't an election here -- and there's no taint to the actual nominee -- forget about the guy nominating him, the nominee himself is not under a cloud -- I do not see how the Senate can block him. And I think the courts will back up Blagojevich on this.

COLBY: You're right on the money because I did the research, too. And really, Roland Burris is not someone that has done anything wrong. And I think we need to separate the two, between him and the governor being investigated.

I wonder about the reaction, though, from the Senate. They wanted very much to have the special election. They didn't want this appointment to take place. Can they do anything about it? You're saying probably not. And there would be a delay. In the meantime, does Burris show up when everyone is back in session?

SAMMON: Well, the senators will be sworn in on January 6 of next week, is my understanding, and...

COLBY: Is he packing?

SAMMON: Well, I don't know. I don't know yet. My suspicion is that he will not be sworn in on that day, and thus will begin the fight that will very quickly go to court.

But what the political result is that you basically have a civil war within the Democratic Party. It's a major embarrassment. You've got Barack Obama and Harry Reid and others on one side. You've got people like Bobby Rush, and I'm guessing that you'll see members of -- other members of the black congressional caucus perhaps start to take sides on this, as well. And you've got a major schism in the Democratic Party.

And you know, the Republicans are just going to step back, and you know, get out of the way and let them cannibalize each other. But this is -- this is going to be very destructive, I think, for the Democrats.

COLBY: Congressman Rush raising the issue of not having an African- American senator -- what are your thoughts?

SAMMON: Well, I guess there's not a lot of subtlety when you deal the race card in Chicago politics because he laid it on pretty thick. He said, you know -- you know, You got 99 white senators, and they're going to deny one black guy to be in the Senate? Now, politically, that's a powerful argument. I mean, he wasn't very subtle about it, but it is going to be tough, I think, for some senators to say no to him.

I mean, this is -- you know, this is not exactly a club that's representative of the American population. I think that was part of Blagojevich's calculation, was to pick a black so it would be tougher for Harry Reid and others to turn him down. And I think that's why he was trying to put the political establishment in a box where it's tough to turn the guy down, but on the other hand, if you accept him, and Blagojevich knew this, you're also tacitly accepting Blagojevich's legitimacy as the sitting governor and therefore make it harder to impeach him. So he's trying to put everybody into a box.

COLBY: It's a Catch-22.

SAMMON: Exactly.

COLBY: It sure is. Bill Sammon, thank you very much.

SAMMON: Thank you.

COLBY: You explained it so well. It is fascinating.

For more, we're now joined by Jonathan Allen, reporter for And on top of all the points that Bill Sammon makes, I thought of another one, the fact that this criminal complaint may soon turn into an indictment, and perhaps Blagojevich is looking to score points with a potential jury pool. The case will be held in an urban environment. Perhaps -- it only takes an African-American, one juror, who has some reasonable doubt in his case, and perhaps he's made some headway by supporting Burris. What do you think?

JONATHAN ALLEN, CQPOLITICS.COM: Well, you've got a little bit more of a legal background than I do, Jamie, but it's hard for me to project that far ahead. I don't know what Governor Blagojevich's calculations are. He's obviously a pretty expert politician and has figured out the chess game. Perhaps that is part of his calculation.

You know, you can't make this stuff up, Jamie. I've never seen anything like these press conferences. You've got a governor that Hollywood couldn't write. Then the stage gets taken over by Bobby Rush, not just an African-American congressman but a former Black Panther. This is an amazing story that's unfolding before our eyes. It's very riveting.

COLBY: Were you surprised by such a bold move?

ALLEN: By Bobby Rush or by Rod Blagojevich?

COLBY: No, by Blagojevich.

ALLEN: No, not at all, Jamie. He insisted that he has a right to make this appointment all along. And it seemed like the best move for him, if he was going to make an appointment, was to try to make an appointment that the Senate would have a hard time refusing. Article One, Section Five of the Constitution reserves to the Senate the right to determine the qualifications of its own members, and several people have been denied in the past.

But as you and Bill pointed out, it's unusual to deny somebody based on someone else's scandal, based on the appointment being made by somebody who is embroiled in a scandal. Typically, it's about the person themselves having some sort of corruption issue, or in the case of Mississippi senator Theodore Bilbo (ph), he had basically advocated violence against black voters in Mississippi in 1946, and that was an issue in him being denied.

So Blagojevich tried to make an appointment that would be difficult for the Senate to turn down, even though it has the ability to do that under the Constitution. And it is a bold move and it's not surprising, although nothing would be surprising in this incredible tale at this point.

COLBY: All right. Jonathan, we're going to keep following it for sure. Great to see you. Thanks.

ALLEN: Always a pleasure, Jamie.

COLBY: Thank you.

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