It was one thing for Barack Obama to usurp Rod Blagojevich’s presidency. But when Barry tried to usurp Rod’s powers as governor by dictating his replacement in the Senate, Rod got fighting mad. And with good reason.
As Barack Obama prepared to assume the presidency, he tried to assume the governorship, too, letting Blagojevich know that he’d be “thankful and appreciative” if Blago replaced him with Valerie Jarrett. When it became clear that Blagojevich would only appoint Jarrett if he was given a Cabinet post, Obama (or someone in the administration) came up with another list of “acceptable” replacements: Tammy Duckworth, Jan Schakowsky, Dan Hynes and Jesse Jackson, Jr.
Under the Constitution, the president doesn’t have a right to stack the Senate with his own picks. Filling vacancies is up to the states. This ensures that Congress will be an independent body, unlike the Chicago City Council, where Mayor Daley gets to appoint replacements for jailed aldermen.
Obama’s actions didn’t violate the letter of our constitutional separation of powers, which ensures that all three branches of government will be equal and independent. They did violate its spirit, though.
Blagojevich should have told Obama to stuff it -- publicly -- and then appointed someone who wasn’t on the president’s list. If he’d done that, he might still be governor. Instead, Blagojevich saw Obama’s outrageous request as an opportunity to grift. He countered it with his own list of outrageous requests: make me Secretary of Labor, appoint me ambassador to India, ask Warren Buffett to donate $10 million to my new child health insurance advocacy group.
(Although he didn’t intend it, Blagojevich helped shape the Obama Administration. After it became clear Jarrett wouldn’t be going to the Senate, Obama appointed her to the White House staff, where she balances out Rahm Emanuel’s a-hole act.)
Obama’s Senate-packing attempt set in motion the events that led to Blagojevich’s arrest on Dec. 8, 2008. If he’d left the decision up to the governor, Blagojevich couldn’t have tried to peddle the seat for White House favors. That doesn’t excuse Blagojevich’s actions. He was undone by his desire to play a role “in the national game,” like his hated rival Obama.
But even a president needs to know his place.