Obama Was Interested in Senate Successor After All

By Lindsey Ellerson

Dec 23, 2008 6:20pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: Among the very many interesting tidbits in President-elect Barack Obama’s report on staff contacts with Gov. Rod Blagojevich, there’s this from the portion on Obama himself (emphasis mine): “After [Valerie] Jarrett decided on November 9, 2008 to withdraw her name from consideration as a possible replacement for him in the Senate and to accept the White House job, the President-Elect discussed other qualified candidates with David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel. Those candidates included Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Jesse Jackson, Jr., Dan Hynes and Tammy Duckworth. The President-Elect understood that Rahm Emanuel would relay these names to the Governor’s office as additions to the pool of qualified candidates who might already be under consideration. Mr. Emanuel subsequently confirmed to the President that he had in fact relayed these names. At no time in the discussion of the Senate seat or of possible replacements did the President-Elect hear of a suggestion that the Governor expected a personal benefit in return for making this appointment to the Senate.” To clarify, then: This was not just idle talk between the president-elect and his top aides. This discussion of specific candidates was taking place with the expectation that the governor would be told about Obama’s preferences. And Rahm Emanuel did as he was told, in conversations with Blagojevich’s then chief of staff. There is nothing untoward or even unexpected about that. As the report seeks to make clear, neither Obama nor Emanuel nor anyone else in the Obama inner circle was engaged in any horse-trading or pay-for-play schemes with Blagojevich. Still, this is a level of interest and involvement in his Senate seat that Obama has not admitted to publicly. Compare this to what Obama said Nov. 7 — three days after the election — when asked by a Chicago Tribune reporter the extent to which he would use his “probably pretty great influence in determining the successor for your Senate seat.” Obama: “This is the governor’s decision. It is not my decision. And I think that the criteria that I would have for my successor would be the same criteria that I’d have if I were a voter: somebody who is capable, somebody who is passionate about helping working families in Illinois meet their — meet their dreams. And I think there are going to be a lot of good choices out there. But it is the governor’s decision to make, not mine.” And here’s what David Axelrod said two weeks ago, at a forum at Harvard: “There’s a vacancy the governor apparently — if you believe the complaint from the government — had some ideas about what to do with it. We were not involved in that discussion or any discussion of that nature,” Axelrod said. True enough, according to the report. But doesn’t this leave a bit of a different impression of Obama’s role in all of this than turns out to be the case? Could it be that Obama wasn’t above playing a bit of — gasp! — politics?

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