Blagojevich given cold reception at Senate after impeachment


Published: Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 7:47 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 7:47 a.m.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. Illinois senators have taken their first steps toward an impeachment trial, after giving embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich a cold reception hours into their new session.

State lawmakers were to meet Thursday and move closer to a likely Jan. 26 trial in determining whether Blagojevich is booted from office for corruption and abuse of power.

On Wednesday, the Illinois House conducted another impeachment vote, reaffirming a decision reached last week. The only dissent came from the governor's sister-in-law, newly sworn in as a state representative.

It was a bizarre day, even for Illinois politics.

The two-term Democratic governor presided over the first meeting of a Senate whose most urgent task is putting him on trial. The senators reacted with stony silence to most of what Blagojevich said and did.

Before he left, the governor alluded to his troubles and the upcoming Senate trial.

"These are challenging times, hard economic times facing the people of Illinois," he said. "I hope we can find a way, as we deal with other issues, to find the truth and sort things out, to put the business of the people first."

He also called on state senators to act "with malice toward none, with charity for all," referring to Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address, delivered near the end of the Civil War, when he implored his countrymen to "bind up the nation's wounds" and work toward peace.

Blagojevich then ducked out a back door to the Senate chamber. The Senate did not provide a group of escorts that would walk a governor out the front door to allow plenty of time for handshakes and backslaps.

Soon after, the Senate took the first formal steps toward a trial, approving rules for the proceedings and swearing in members as jurors. A summons was delivered to the governor's office to notify him of the proceedings.

Senators fell silent and took their seats when two staffers wheeled in a dolly stacked with nine boxes of evidence and files from the House impeachment committee. House-appointed prosecutor David Ellis then read details of the governor's impeachment into the record.

Republican Sen. Dan Rutherford said the silence was a bit eerie.

"Unless it's the resolution to memorialize the death of a colleague, I haven't heard it this quiet in the chambers," he said.

Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on federal corruption charges, including accusations he schemed to benefit from his power to choose President-elect Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate. He has defied calls for his resignation, leading the Illinois House to impeach him a first for any Illinois governor.

The Senate hasn't conducted a trial since 1833, when it acquitted a judge who had been impeached for abuse of power.

The House impeached Blagojevich last week on a 114-1 vote. On Wednesday, impeachment passed 117-1, with the only dissenting vote coming from Democratic Rep. Deborah Mell, whose sister is married to the governor.

Secretary of State Jesse White, a Democrat who had refused to certify Blagojevich's appointment of Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate, presided over the swearing-in of the new Illinois House. White had refused to sign because of the criminal allegations against Blagojevich but insisted his signature was not required to make the appointment valid.

The Illinois Supreme Court agreed, and U.S. Senate Democrats eventually backed off of their opposition to the appointment, agreeing that Burris could be sworn in Thursday.

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