Sunday, January 4, 2009

Reid to Burris on Blagojemess: Maybe we can talk

Senator Harry Reid and Could-Be Senator Roland Burris

As Rod "I am the Governor" Blagojevich's pick to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat, Roland Burris, vowed to fight for the office, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic Whip Dick Durbin went on Sunday talk shows and declared again that they have the authority to refuse to seat Burris and still plan to exclude him.

After drawing a line in the sand, however, Reid immediately invited Burris to ignore it, indicating that while the appointment by Blagojevich was tainted, Burris was a fine fellow and Reid might be willing to negotiate a solution to the problem. Reid is now scheduled to meet with Burris on Wednesday.

Of course, Reid may be just acting polite to avoid giving the bum's rush to an African-American about whom no one seems to have anything bad to say. Black ministers and community leaders in Chicago are rallying behind Burris, and he's also getting some key editorial support. And although Reid denies it, he's clearly been embarrassed by a claim from the Blago camp that he urged the Governor not to appoint any of several leading Black Illinois elected officials, supposedly because they wouldn't be able to hold the seat for the Democrats in 2010. Perhaps most significantly, there seems to be a growing consensus of opinion, cutting across partisan and ideological lines, that the Senate lacks the authority to exclude Burris and would be unwise or unfair to try to do so.

Reid is working to buy time. When Burris shows up on Tuesday, he'll likely be given some acknowledgement -- perhaps even accepted as a "Senator-elect" -- with the issue of his credentials referred to the Rules Committee for study. With a little luck, the Illinois Legislature will impeach Blagojevich and remove him from office as early as next week before the Committee completes its "study."

Trouble is that even a quick impeachment wouldn't change the question of whether the Senate must recognize Burris's appointment by Blago when he was still Governor. One way out would be to persuade Lt. Governor Pat Quinn to appoint Burris again after taking over as Governor, thus saving face for Reid, making no concession on the Senate's ultimate authority, and dodging a potentially ugly race-tinged fight. For his part, Burris might be persuaded to agree not to run for a full Senate term in 2010.

It's hard to see a "compromise" like this flying. After putting himself out on a limb by accepting Blago's appointment, why should Burris agree to give up the office in two years, when his legal case is probably a winner. Why should Pat Quinn appoint him anyway? Why would all the other Illinois pols who want the appointment for themselves fall in line? And how can anyone be confident that Blago will be out of office anytime soon?

Nope. The Blagojemess will continue to get messier.

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