CHICAGO - Facing a historic Senate impeachment trial, a defiant Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Friday vowed to remain in office as he blamed the House's near unanimous vote earlier in the day to impeach him on an ongoing legislative power struggle.
"I'm confident that at the end of the day, I will be properly exonerated. In the meantime, I have a job to do for the people," the Democratic governor said at a news conference called just hours after the House voted, 114-1, in favor of House Resolution 1671 that included the article of impeachment.
The six-page resolution outlines 13 alleged cases of misconduct or abuses of power, including the federal government's pay-to-play charges and accusation that he attempted to auction off President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat. Those charges led to his arrest by the Federal Bureau of Investigation one month ago and sparked the legislative effort to remove him from office.
At the news conference, the governor, who was jogging near his Chicago home as the House voted on his impeachment, stood beside state families he said had benefitted from his programs - like expanded health care and access to prescription drugs. In some case, he enacted those programs by maneuvering around the General Assembly.
"The House is impeaching me for that? Is that an impeachable offense?" he said, leaving without taking questions.
The Democratic-controlled House's action - marking the first time in the state's 190-year history that a sitting governor has been impeached - now puts the governor's fate in the hands of the 59-member Democratic-controlled Senate.
Whereas a simple majority vote of 60 was required to impeach the governor, a two-thirds majority of 40 will be needed in the Senate to convict him. The proceedings will mirror a trial with the chief justice of the state Supreme Court presiding.
The Senate convenes today for its new session. A representative of incoming Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said a special committee will work in the coming weeks on rules for the trial. Because most members will be attending the presidential inauguration of their former colleague next week, a trial is not expected to begin before the week of Jan. 26 and it could take about three weeks.
The House vote on Friday came after 90 minutes of debate. Only two members of the Republican minority leadership spoke, leaving it mostly up to Democrats to criticize one of their own. No one rose to defend the governor.
The article of impeachment was attached to a 61-page report produced by the House special investigative committee and voted on Thursday. The report is available at http://www.ilga.gov/house/committees/Documents/Final%20Report%20of%20the%20Special%20Investigative%20Committee.pdf.
House Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, who chaired the committee, said the impeachment resolution and committee report show Blagojevich is unfit to govern. "They show a public servant who has betrayed his public office, who betrayed the public trust," she said. "His silence in this grave matter is deafening."
The impeachment resolution lays out the committee's case in finding that "cause" exists for impeachment based on allegations of corruption and abuse of power. The committee's report places significant weight on the allegations outlined in the federal government's criminal complaint against the governor. It also cites other instances of alleged abuses by him during his six-year tenure, some of which have been the subject of federal court documents and others involving governing issues, including state leases, controversial initiatives and questionable hiring and spending practices.
The report highlights the financial impact of the governor's arrest, citing the delay in the state's issue of $1.4 billion of notes to pay down a backlog of $4 billion in overdue bills because of the arrest and recent credit downgrades citing the arrest.
Impeachment is supported "based on the totality of the evidence" the resolution reads. If convicted, Blagojevich would be removed from office and banned from holding state office in the future. Lieut. Gov. Pat Quinn would replace him.