Impeachment Vote Looms for Blagojevich

Instead, like Bill Clinton in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Blagojevich steadfastly maintained his innocence, and sought out allies where he could find them.

In a theatrical press conference the week after the prosecutors' criminal complaint, he quoted Rudyard Kipling in proclaiming his innocence -- notwithstanding the transcripts of taped conversations that by that time had become late-night fodder.

"I will fight this thing every step of the way. I will fight, I will fight, I will fight, till I take my very last breath. I have done nothing wrong," Blagojevich said.

State officials initially talked about stripping him of his Senate appointment powers. The attorney general went to the state Supreme Court to try to immediately remove him from office.

When those efforts sputtered, Blagojevich played his last, best card. He ignored warnings from Reid, Obama and other prominent Democrats that anyone he chose for the Senate would never be seated, and last week chose Burris for the Senate seat.

Roland Burris Choice a Masterstroke

Burris, 71, had been out of public office for 14 years. But Blagojevich knew selecting the first African-American statewide officeholder in Illinois history would raise the issue of race for the all-white Senate -- and he brought a black member of Congress, Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., to the press conference to announce the pick, to make sure the point wasn't lost.

It turned out to be a political masterstroke. Obama, Reid, and other Senate Democrats initially kept up their objections, flatly refusing to seat Burris. But amid pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus, they opted against a prolonged fight, and Burris is now widely expected to become a senator.

By Monday, Obama was urging Reid to find an amicable solution. And on Wednesday, just hours after Burris was barred from entering the Senate chamber, Reid signaled that resistance was crumbling and found himself defending Senate Democrats' initial reticence to swear him in.

"This is nothing that is racial," said Reid.

The series of events proved amusing to many longtime Blagojevich watchers, who have seen him outmaneuver enemies for years in Illinois. He's gained a reputation as a crafty politician -- looking for fights, comfortable when boxed into a corner and cognizant of the power of symbolism in politics.

"We really should not have been surprised that he did it -- it's in his political nature," said Richard A. Wandling, chairman of the political science department at Eastern Illinois University. "From his vantage point, it was a very smart move politically. What's interesting is how he's taken his very aggressive style of politics and taken it national. It's chutzpah."

Madden, the GOP strategist, said Blagojevich went up against some of the most powerful Democrats in the nation -- and won.

"Everyone in the arena watching this spectacle has now spent the last week focusing on how Harry Reid had his bluff called, and wondering when Burris will get seated instead of questioning if he will get seated," he said.

Sheinkopf, the Democratic strategist, said Blagojevich knew all along that he had the law on his side. Operating from the legal high ground, he proved himself the craftier politician.

"The great winner is Blagojevich," he said. "[National Democrats] may have created a folk hero out of a guy who everybody thought was a criminal a week ago."

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