Blago Swears (In Senate)

Governor entered State Capital for first time since arrest

Only hours after Gov. Rod Blagojevich convened a new Illinois Senate and urged lawmakers to "find the truth," senators took the first steps Wednesday toward a trial to determine whether the impeached governor is booted from office.

New Senate President John Cullerton, a Democrat from Chicago, told the Chicago Tribune that the rules were modeled after the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in the U.S. Senate.

In a bizarre day, even by the colorful standards of Illinois politics, Blagojevich presided Wednesday over a tense swearing-in of the state Senate that must ultimately decide whether to oust him.

The Democratic governor was greeted by silence as he entered the Senate chamber through a back entrance, took the podium without introduction and banged a gavel to call the session to order. He mostly stuck to the formalities of overseeing the ceremony during the hour or so he presided.

Blagojevich, who is accused of trying to auction off President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat, politely applauded as he welcomed by name several of the same state officials who have called on him to resign. Among them was Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who would become governor if Blagojevich is removed from office.

But as he handed the proceedings over to Cullerton, Blagojevich said he hopes senators will "find the truth and sort things out, to put the business of the people first."

Cullerton replaces Emil Jones, who stepped down after 36 years in the Legislature.

Blagojevich, who quoted British poets in his last two public appearances since his arrest, turned this time to a favorite of Illinois politicians, Abraham Lincoln, calling on state senators to act "with malice toward none, with charity for all."

The reference is from 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.

While moving to elect Cullerton the new Senate president -- and with Blagojevich still presiding -- Sen. Lou Viverito called the governor's upcoming impeachment trial one of many challenges facing the state, pointing out Cullerton's stellar ethics record.

"Today we have the opportunity to make one significant and meaningful step toward ... restoring the public's trust," said Viverito, a Democrat from Burbank.

The 59 men and women in the Senate who will sit as both judge and jury in the governor's impeachment trial are composed of 37 Democrats and 22 Republicans.  Forty votes are needed to oust Blagojevich.

The Senate's impeachement trial of the governor is scheduled to start Jan. 26.  Cullerton said he hopes to finish the trial by Feb. 4.

"You don't want to have the cloud of an impeachment trial hanging over the normal, regular legislative session," he said.

New Illinois House members, meanwhile, voted again to impeach Blagojevich after their own swearing-in -- with the governor's sister-in-law as the only dissenting vote.  [Read More on the House's Second Impeachment Vote]

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