Obama's Senate Seat Could Stay Vacant for Months

It could be a long time before Illinois again has a second U.S. senator.

Nearly two weeks after Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on federal corruption charges, he remains in office and, technically, retains the ability to appoint President-elect Barack Obama's successor in the Senate -- but Blagojevich's attorney says the governor will not exercise that right. (The U.S. Senate has threatened to hold up any candidate he were to name.)

And since no legal or legislative attempt to strip that right from the governor has succeeded so far, Obama's seat remains in limbo at least through the start of the 111th Congress on Jan. 3.

"The bottom line ... I think we're at best a couple months away," said Tom Cross, Illinois House Republican leader. "We're in suspended animation."

The outraged calls for the ouster of Blagojevich that followed his arrest have been tempered by the slow-and-steady reality of impeachment proceedings.

Though a House panel convened this week to discuss grounds for impeachment, members of the committee say they will do nothing that would interfere with the investigation of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. That means the panel could be limited in the witnesses they can call and, in turn, the allegations they can use to build a case against the governor.

Cross told FOXNews.com that he thinks the lawmakers still can build a credible case off the federal complaint. He said the Illinois House could take a vote on impeachment before the next session of the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 14. But it could take a number of weeks for the state Senate to then consider the House's action.

At first, it seemed like the governor's refusal to resign would prompt his ouster. But his attorney, Ed Genson, made clear in hearings this week that he will challenge the allegations every step of the way.

Genson most recently said he believes the wire-tapped conversations at the heart of the criminal charges were "illegally obtained." Blagojevich defended himself Friday, saying he would fight the charges at his first press conference since his arrest.

As for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's request to declare the governor unfit to serve, it was rejected by the state Supreme Court.

Though Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn has indicated he's ready to appoint Obama's replacement, until Blagojevich leaves the picture Quinn is stuck waiting in the wings.

Holding a special election to fill the Senate seat seemed at first to be state lawmakers' favored option, but with a projected cost of up to $50 million, that proposal stalled early this week. State Republicans are calling on lawmakers to bring it back, blaming Democrats' wariness on a fear of losing Obama's seat.

Democrats in the U.S. Senate were unable to reach a 60-seat filibuster-proof majority in the last election, but Obama's vacant spot will only complicate their efforts to overpower stonewalling Republicans in the coming session.

FOXNews.com's Judson Berger and The Associated Press contributed to this report.