Obama resigns Senate seat effective Sunday

CHICAGO (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama said on Thursday he would resign his U.S. Senate seat effective Sunday, which means he will not participate in next week’s post-election session that could address the ailing economy and struggling auto industry.

Barack Obama breathes in the cold damp air during remarks at his final campaign rally before the presidential election in Manassas, Virginia November 3, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Obama, who will be sworn in as president on January 20, said he would step down from his Senate seat to focus on the transition to the White House.

“It has been one of the highest honors and privileges of my life to have served the people of Illinois in the United States Senate,” said Obama, who has served four years of his six-year term in the Senate.

Under Illinois state law, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich is responsible for naming a successor to Obama. The appointee would serve Obama’s term through 2010.

Blagojevich does not have to fill the seat immediately. But with the Senate planning to hold a post-election session starting on Monday, he might be encouraged to promptly install a fellow Democrat to help the party win potentially close votes during that special session.

Obama made history last week by becoming the first black person to be elected U.S. president.

“In a state that represents the crossroads of a nation, I have met so many men and women who’ve taken different journeys, but hold common hopes for their children’s future,” said Obama, the only black person currently serving in the U.S. Senate.

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“It is these Illinois families and their stories that will stay with me as I leave the United States Senate and begin the hard task of fulfilling the simple hopes and common dreams of all Americans as our nation’s next president.”

The Democratic-led Senate is hoping during the upcoming session to pass a possible rescue package for the struggling auto industry and maybe an economic stimulus bill.

Including Obama, there are currently 49 Republicans and 49 Democrats in the Senate plus two independents who align themselves with the Democrats.

Some of the people mentioned for the Obama seat include Tammy Duckworth, director of the Illinois department of Veteran Affairs. She is an Iraq war veteran who unsuccessfully sought a seat in the House of Representatives two years ago.

Other possibilities for the job include Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois, who has openly campaigned for the appointment, and close Obama confidant Valerie Jarrett. Jarrett said this week she was not interested in the job.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden, a long-time senator from Delaware, has not yet said when he will resign his Senate seat. He must resign by noon on January 20, the day he is sworn in. (Additional reporting by Caren Bohan and Richard Cowan, editing by Vicki Allen)