“I Have Never Spoken To The Governor On This Subject” — OK, Why Not?

The Times runs a transcript of Obama’s remarks this morning, including this:

I have never spoken to the governor on this subject. I’m confident that no representatives of mine would have any part of any deals related to this seat. I think the materials released by the U.S. attorney reflect that fact.

I’ve asked my team to gather the facts of any contacts with the governor’s office about this vacancy so that we can share them with you over the next few days.

Finally, on this matter, let me say that this Senate seat does not belong to any politician to trade. It belongs to the people of Illinois, and they deserve the best possible representation.

They also deserve to know that any vacancy will be filled in an appropriate way so that whoever is sent to Washington is going to be fighting for the people of Illinois. I hope and expect that the leaders of the legislature will take these steps to ensure that this is so.

ME:  This seems passing strange.  Until January 20 gets here, Obama is still the sitting U.S. senator occupying that seat.  Obviously, it would be wrong for Obama to get involved in a corrupt deal to trade his seat.  But what would be wrong about speaking to Blagojevich about who would be replacing him?  He says the people of Illinois “deserve the best possible representation.”  OK, well don’t they deserve it now, while he is still in office?  What would possibly be more important to them than making sure the extraordinarily influential incumbent weighed in with the governor — a governor whom he twice was very instrumental in getting elected — to try to influence that governor’s selection?  Obama would have been derelict not to weigh in.

U.S. senators weigh in with presidents all the time — even presidents of the opposite party — about what federal judges and U.S. attorneys should be appointed in their state.  There’s nothing wrong with that — it’s the way things are done, and it allows senators to exercise some quality control on behalf of their constituents.  If Dick Durbin wouldn’t hesitate to lean on President Bush in the making of an appointment in Illinois, what conceivable chance is there that Barack Obama wouldn’t weigh in with his old ally Rod Blagojevich over who should replace Barack Obama in representing Barack Obama’s constituents?  Over who would work most effectively for Barack Obama’s constituents with Barack Obama’s administration?

When David Axelrod “misspoke” a couple of weeks ago, he said of Obama, “I know he’s talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them.”  No one, of course, batted an eye at the time because it is exactly what you would expect.  What would be really weird would be if Obama hadn’t weighed in.

How foolish for Obama and his people to tee this up so that if it turns out — when it inevitably turns out – that either Obama or someone on his behalf communicated Obama’s wishes about his replacement to Blago or some Blago aide, they will now look either like liars or amateurs.

The only thing for Obama to say was something like:  “Of course I made my views about several fine candidates known to the governor — I owe the people I still represent of Illinois nothing less than my best judgment about that.  But of course I had no part in any deal, and I think that’s pretty clear from the very lengthy complaint and the remarks made by the U.S. attorney.  I’m obviously appalled by the governor’s very strange views about how he should carry out his responsibilities, but I’m not at all confused about mine.” 

CORRECTION:  I apologize for being unaware that Obama had resigned his senate seat on November 16.  (On that, while I see what’s in it for Obama in terms of avoiding uncomfortable votes before he assumes the presidency, I don’t see what’s in it for the people he was elected to represent, who are left without a senator for two months.)  It doesn’t change my mind about anything I said in the post.  Obama is still the closest thing the people of Illinois have to an incumbent, he properly has a long-standing alliance with the governor of his home state, he has a great interest in the composition of the senate (which is why he did not hesitate in the slightest to lean on Harry Reid to keep Joe Lieberman as a committee chairman), and he has a very strong interest — both personally and on behalf of the people who elected him to the senate — in who replaces him.  It is inconceivable that he would not make his views known to Blagojevich, whether personally or through intermediaries.

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