President-elect Obama is giving up his U.S. Senate seat from Illinois effective Sunday, intensifying the jockeying to replace the only African American in Congress' upper chamber as lawmakers return next week for a lame-duck session.
Several Illinois politicians want the job, including at least three members of Congress. Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who's also a Democrat, will appoint the successor of his choice to fill out the remaining two years of Obama's six-year term.
Obama said in a statement Thursday that his partial term as a senator had been “one of the highest honors and privileges of my life.”
Theoretically, Obama's departure could make Democrats more vulnerable to a filibuster if the Senate were to need an extra vote next week or before the year's end on any contentious proposals such as aid to automakers.
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However, Obama's transition staff already had said that he didn't intend to participate in the lame-duck session. Democratic and Republican aides in the Senate said Thursday that they didn't expect to see votes that would hinge on Obama's presence.
Vice President-elect Joe Biden, a Democratic senator from Delaware, hadn't announced when he'll vacate his seat. Nor had Rep. Rahm Emanuel, an Illinois Democrat who will serve as Obama's White House chief of staff.
Congressional scholar Norm Ornstein of the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute said Thursday that all three men were in awkward postures right now between their legislative and executive roles.
“You are president-elect but still a member of the legislative body, and if you come back it overshadows everything else,” Ornstein said of the lame-duck session. “You run the risk if you vote that you're on the losing side. You'd just look diminished. There's nothing about it that works to your advantage.”
Obama's Senate salary will end Sunday, his transition staff said. His health-care benefits will run through the end of the year, and he can buy extended coverage until his inauguration.