Impeachment Proceedings Dominate First Day of Illinois Session

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Illinois lawmakers descended on the state capital of Springfield Monday to consider whether to hold a special election to fill Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat -- but the campaign to launch impeachment proceedings against Gov. Rod Blagojevich seemed to gather far more steam.

As legislators kicked off the special session, some Democrats in the Illinois House were blocking action on the special election. House Speaker Michael Madigan said Democratic members were split over whether such an election is appropriate, and said no legislation would be considered until his members come to an agreement.

Chicago attorney Ed Genson, a tough, street-smart lawyer, confirmed he would represent Blagojevich. He has said he would handle both the criminal and possible impeachment cases against the governor.

Genson, whose past clients include newspaper baron Conrad Black and R&B singer R. Kelly, chided the media's coverage of the scandal and said the case has been "significantly exaggerated." Genson said Blagojevich had no plans to step down.

"He's not stepping aside. He hasn't done anything wrong," Genson said Monday night as he left his office after meeting with Blagojevich.

As Blagojevich left Genson's office, he would only say, "There will be an appropriate time and place (to comment) ... I can't wait to talk to you guys."

Meanwhile, House members swiftly and unanimously passed a resolution that would formally start the process of impeaching Blagojevich by creating a special committee to review the matter.

Madigan announced the investigative panel Monday. The committee will work every day except holidays, Madigan said Monday at a press conference. Once the committee comes up with a recommendation on whether cause exists for impeachment, Madigan said, the full House will decide whether to file such charges against the governor. The Senate ultimately would rule on them.

The panel would include 12 Democrats and nine Republicans.

Blagojevich, along with his chief of staff John Harris, has been accused of scheming to sell off President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.

Madigan said lawmakers have been reviewing grounds for impeachment for about a year and that he  "was not surprised" by the charges against Blagojevich.

"I'm not surprised at anything he does," Madigan said. "In light of what we've all seen ... how can anyone be surprised?"

Madigan, a Democrat representing Chicago, had previously been quiet on how he intended to deal with calls for Blagojevich to resign.

Madigan did not join the chorus of officials calling for Blagojevich's resignation or say whether he thinks the governor should be impeached, saying he should remain neutral because he would preside over any impeachment debate.

The governor, meanwhile, returned to work Monday and continued to ignore calls for his ouster.

His spokesman, Lucio Guerrero, said the governor hadn't yet seen the bill calling for a special election, but that he might consider signing it.

Monday's special session of the General Assembly was the first since the governor's arrest last week. But questions about the proposed special election seemed to imperil its chances.

Election officials statewide say they don't have the money to pay for a special election.

Officials have floated statewide cost projections between $30 million and $50 million -- running individual counties anywhere from tens of thousand of dollars to as much as $8 million in Cook County's Chicago suburbs. Chicago's expenses could hit $16 million. Clerks say they don't have that money in their budgets.

Democrats originally made the call for a special election, but some are now having second thoughts.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was an early supporter, but the Illinois Democrat is now calling for Blagojevich to resign so that the lieutenant governor can appoint Obama's replacement.

Opponents of a special election say it would cost tens of millions of dollars and not produce a new senator until April.

Republicans claim Democrats are wavering because they don't want to risk seeing a Republican candidate win Obama's seat. The Republicans plan to run television ads pressuring Democrats to approve a special election.

While he remains in office, Blagojevich holds the power to appoint a new senator. If he resigns, that power would go to Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, also a Democrat.

Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross told FOX News that he'd like to push forward on both a special election and impeachment proceedings.

"I think there's a good bit of support for impeachment on both sides, frankly," he said.

The calls for impeachment put the spotlight on Madigan, who ultimately will decide the timing of any impeachment effort.

Madigan often has clashed with the governor; his office produced a memo this year outlining all the arguments legislative candidates could make in favor of impeachment.

Madigan's daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, has asked the state Supreme Court to remove Blagojevich from office, claiming he is unfit to serve. Lisa Madigan said Sunday she expects word from the court "probably just in a few days."

Attorney General Madigan is considered one of the top Democratic candidates for governor in 2010.

The state constitution gives lawmakers broad authority to impeach a governor for any reason they consider sufficient.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.