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Tilting at Windmills

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December 30, 2008

DEMS WILL NOT SEAT BURRIS.... Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich thought Senate Democrats wouldn't have the guts to reject Roland Burris' appointment to the Senate. He thought wrong.

The Senate Democratic Leadership issued this statement this afternoon, in advance of the Blagojevich press conference, which is set to begin in a half-hour:

"It is truly regrettable that despite requests from all 50 Democratic Senators and public officials throughout Illinois, Gov. Blagojevich would take the imprudent step of appointing someone to the United States Senate who would serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of impropriety. We say this without prejudice toward Roland Burris's ability, and we respect his years of public service. But this is not about Mr. Burris; it is about the integrity of a governor accused of attempting to sell this United States Senate seat. Under these circumstances, anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus.

"Next week we will start one of the most important debates of the year -- outlining an economic recovery plan to create jobs and invest in America. And in the coming weeks, we will be working to protect homeowners and consumers, make America more energy independent, strengthen our national security, and improve health care and educational opportunities. There is much work to do and a lot at stake. It is thus critical that Illinois and every other state have two seated Senators without delay.

"We again urge Gov. Blagojevich to not make this appointment. It is unfair to Mr. Burris, it is unfair to the people of Illinois and it will ultimately not stand. The governor must put the interests of the people of Illinois and all Americans first by stepping aside now and letting his successor appoint someone who we will seat."

Good for them. It might have been tempting for them to seat Burris and end the questions about the vacancy, but Senate Dems did the right thing and followed through on their threat to Blagojevich.

We'll see if and how the governor responds to this in about 30 minutes.

Steve Benen 2:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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Comments

Yes, good for them!

Posted by: Burris should say no on December 30, 2008 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

No Steve. Not good for them. Bad for them for letting principle stand in the way of recognizing a wise choice. Blagojevich is a jerk and likely a crook but he did the right thing here. The caucus is tarring Burris with guilt by association when he's never been accused of anything, nor has he ever raised reason that he should be.

Posted by: Chocolate Thunder on December 30, 2008 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Hi this is Mr. Burris...
I wouldn't have accepted the seat anyway.
That's because I realize the impropriety and I am a pol of intergrity.

Posted by: April First on December 30, 2008 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Nope, good for them. Everything Blagojevich is doing to my fair state is in jeopardy because of his status. Civil union debate? Not possible. A bill to keep the poor's heat on during the winter? Screwed up because of the Governor's trouble. Burris actually wouldn't be a bad choice, as long as somebody else appoints him. In fact, I think the best thing to do to Blagojevich is to get somebody else in the Governor's seat and have them appoint Burris.

Posted by: LogopolisMike on December 30, 2008 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not so sure this is the "right thing." If the earlier letter pushed Blago to do a good, if still less than the ideal, thing and he appoints a respected public servant with no taint of scandal, someone willing to place-hold until an election can let the people decide, why not just declare victory and seat Burris?

I know they say this is not about and doesn't malign Burris, but that is disingenuous. Of course it reflects on Burris: he is the only nominee. Blago is not the nominee. So long as there is no suggestion that Burris was part of the effort to buy or sell the seat, and so long as Burris will not run again and therefore have no unfair advantage, there is no principled reason why Burris should not be judged on his merits. Blago is not the nominee. Burris is. And this is one of the few ways to ensure that (a) Illinois has its full complement of Senators to start the new session and (b) Obama has his full complement of Democratic senators to start the new session.

Blago is a shameless crook and an ass on top of it; I get it. He has no credibility and should step down; I get that, too. But he wont, and we can't make him. So if we have made him at least make a careful, decent pick why penalize Obama, Illinois, and Burris as proxies for the guy whose head we really want? Are we so certain that this "indirect" punishment is really the "right thing"?

And how is it that Reid can stand tough to fellow Dems but never to Republicans? And he cant hold the caucus together to stop Republican procedural games but he can get every one of them to sign on to a plan to block a respected Democrat from being another pro-Obama vote? Really? Are we sure he isn't a Republican plant?

Posted by: zeitgeist on December 30, 2008 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Where have they been for the last eight years. Didn't see them follow through on any of their threats to the republicans. He let the biggest crooks get away and now, good for him? Reid should try some follow through on the ones from the other side of the aisle.

Posted by: cali on December 30, 2008 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

You know, it is not at all clear that the Senate has the power to do this. Each state has the right to representation in Congress, and the Senate doesn't necessarily have the power to refuse to seat a Senator who has been lawfully appointed for no other reason than the fact that the governor who appointed him is in legal trouble.

Posted by: jeebus on December 30, 2008 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

The Senate Democratic Leadership issued this statement

I assume this would include objections from Sen. Durbin. Also, Rich Miller's Capitolfaxblog.com is now reporting that Illinois Sec State Jesse White has confirmed that he will refuse to certify Burris.

Posted by: Danp on December 30, 2008 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

I really didn't think Reid would have the guts to do this, but then again, Rod and Burris are Democrats, and Reid never seems to miss an opportunity to stand up to a Democrat. :)

Posted by: doubtful on December 30, 2008 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

The caucus is tarring Burris with guilt by association when he's never been accused of anything, nor has he ever raised reason that he should be.

It may well be that Burris did nothing improper and Blago wanted to salvage his reputation by choosing an excellent public servant. But a Senate appointment made by someone now charged with selling a Senate appointment can never be considered legitimate, ever, under any circumstances. That Burris thinks otherwise when he's the appointee speaks poorly of him.

Posted by: Mike B. on December 30, 2008 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

it is not at all clear that the Senate has the power to do this. - jeebus

Even if they had to remove him with a 2/3 majority, can you imagine any Republicans voting to keep him? The state Republicans are already howling.

Posted by: Danp on December 30, 2008 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

IMO, White's job is more of a functionary rather than a legal gatekeeper. I suppose Burris can sue him as well as Reid if he wants the seat.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 30, 2008 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

As someone on another blog pointed out, the only people in the Dem leadership like Harry Reid stand up to are other Dems, never Republicans!

Posted by: wagonjak on December 30, 2008 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

You know, it is not at all clear that the Senate has the power to do this. -jeebus

It's also not entirely clear that they don't. I've seen more legally inclined commenters than myself say the same thing as you, citing Powell v. McCormack, but it seems this matter is complicated because it's an appointment and not popular election.

I have to assume that Reid feels they have grounds to challenge the legality of the appointment, probably on the grounds of campiagn contributions and beneficial state contracts.

Powell v. McCormack may not be a suitable precedent because of the differences between being duly elected and appointed. No matter what, it's not as clear cut as was presented earlier, and I don't think would be an easy legal battle for Burris.

Posted by: doubtful on December 30, 2008 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

Look, I know Burris seems like a decent fellow and under any other circumstance he'd be a good choice. But if he is stupid enough to willingly accept an appointment from someone like Blago and when every knows he will be rejected, he doesn't deserve the job. I honestly don't know what he's thinking, other than he may be so desperate to be a Senator that he thinks this is his only shot.

Posted by: gf120581 on December 30, 2008 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

People, read the statement again. It says Burris won't be seated by the *Democratic Caucus*. That's a party meeting, not an official government body. The statement does *not* say he won't be seated as a member of the Senate. Under the Powell ruling, the Senate lacks the power to prevent that, as long as a member is validly elected (or appointed), and as long as the member meets the minimum criteria sets up in the constitution (which Burris does). I'm sure whoever wrote this statement knows that very well, which is why the statement says "Democratic Caucus" and not "U.S. Senate."

Posted by: TKD on December 30, 2008 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Why good for them? Unless there is something wrong with Burris of course. Otherwise they're going to be light one vote and Burris isn't some wishy-washy republican-lite Dem. His is a vote they, and America, should be happy to have.

Posted by: Jay on December 30, 2008 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Why is it good for them? A) they don't get to pick who their other Senators are and shouldn't try. B) Burris is a fine pick, and C) there's no evidence the seat was "sold." Frankly, given Roland Burris, I very much doubt it was.

There is a law on the boks, Blago is still Governor (and, yes, a complete horse's ass) and this is how the system, works. The (corrupt) Illinois Legislature has been diddling away the time to do anything.

Enough is enough! Seat Burris!

Posted by: AlphaLiberal on December 30, 2008 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Jay and AlphaLib have it right. It's popular these days to poop all over Blagojevich's finely brushed head, but he does have a legal function to fulfill, and he's chosen someone with a sterling reputation here. Let us have our damned senator!

Posted by: Chocolate Thunder on December 30, 2008 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

We finally found someone the Democratic leadership is willing to stand up to.

Posted by: anandine on December 30, 2008 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

Correction Steve. They won't allow him in the caucus. THAT IS DIFFERENT FROM THE SENATE.

Please make sure this is clear to your readers.

Posted by: justmy2 on December 30, 2008 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

It says Burris won't be seated by the *Democratic Caucus* - TKD

I think you're misinterpreting the Dem Caucus statement. They are saying if you ignor our (Caucus's) advice, we will consider not seating him. But they're not talking about seating him in the caucus; they are talking about seating him in the Senate, even though the letter is only signed by Dems.

As for the Adam Clayton Powell decision, I would interpret that as saying they cannot use a justification outside the Constitution to refuse him a seat. In Powell's case, they claimed he accepted money illegally. If they merely claim the reason is that Burris was improperly elected (appointed), that ruling would be irrelevant. And the Senate would be the final arbiter (assuming the SCOTUS doesn't draw a distinction between elected and appointed)

Posted by: Danp on December 30, 2008 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

In Powell's case, they claimed he accepted money illegally. If they merely claim the reason is that Burris was improperly elected (appointed), that ruling would be irrelevant. -Danp

I've also been wondering at the basis for not seating him, and I wonder if a case could be made that any appointment made by Blago is an attempt to influence a forthcoming jury?

Posted by: doubtful on December 30, 2008 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

The caucus is tarring Burris with guilt by association when he's never been accused of anything, nor has he ever raised reason that he should be.

Absolutely wrong. It's Blago who's tarring Burris with guilt by naming him--as he would absolutely anyone he named--and the Senate caucus makes this very clear. I'm frankly quite surprised that Burris was dumb enough to agree to this.

Blago hoped to earn some points with this. He's the only person in the universe who fails to recognize that absolutely nothing he does now can redeem him, including appointing the decent and unbent Burris, and he needs to get the fuck out of the way.

So if we have made him at least make a careful, decent pick why penalize Obama, Illinois, and Burris as proxies for the guy whose head we really want? Are we so certain that this "indirect" punishment is really the "right thing"?

Right now Blago is living in a dream world, surrounded, as Pat Quinn aptly put it, by the palace guard that's successfully helping him escape reality. The only way to get him out is apparently to keep reminding him in no uncertain terms that he's already finished and the impeachment/conviction are just the formality.

Posted by: shortstop on December 30, 2008 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

And those of you who think we can't survive a little while without two senators: Have you stopped to consider what a Christmas present the Democratic caucus would be giving the GOP by legitimizing anything Blagojevich does now? Seriously, do you want to spend the next eight years listening to ad nauseam commentary about how the Senate Dems rolled over for world-class crook Rod Blagojevich? And don't bother with the "they're going to criticize us anyway" argument. They are, but we don't need to hand them such a gorgeous stick to beat us with. Hell, I wouldn't blame them a bit for using that. They'd be within their rights to do so.

And all of this is without even going into the fact that it's just wrong to allow Blagojevich any power or respect. Reid is a spineless twit and I'm no happier than anyone else that this is how he finds his moxie. But that doesn't change the external facts: Blago has to be slapped down without qualification.

Senate Dems may not be able to stop Burris being seated, but they're sure as hell doing the right thing by denouncing this in the strongest possible terms.

Posted by: shortstop on December 30, 2008 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

I think the Senate can keep him out if they decide not to seat him.

In this case standing on abstract principle might be foolish. By all accounts Burris has a sterling reputation. He is more than qualified. He is 71 making him a place keeper until the next election. Democrats need all the votes they can get to stop a McConnell led filibuster of the big economic package they want to pass before January 20. I say poll the Illinois legislature and the Lt. Gov. to see if they find Burris objectionable. If not, seat him.

Posted by: Ron Byers on December 30, 2008 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

In this case standing on abstract principle might be foolish. By all accounts Burris has a sterling reputation.

He does, and he deserves it. So freaking what? Do you guys not get that it's not Burris's reputation that this act is going to be judged on; it's Blagojevich's?

Posted by: shortstop on December 30, 2008 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Senate Dems did the right thing and followed through on their threat to Blagojevich.

Not so fast. All they did was repeat their threat not to seat a Blagojevich appointee.

Blagojevich is still governor of Illinois and has the authority to make this appointment. Unless more ceremony/authorization is required, Burris is now the legal Junior Senator of Illinois, and will remain so until he resigns or is impeached. There is some doubt about the legal authority of the Senate to refuse to seat the legal senator of Illinois. When the Senate convenes, the Democrats will want to have as large a majority as possible on their first legislative initiatives, and they'll need the Junior Senator from Illinois. If Blagojevich is not impeached and removed from office by then, or if the Illinois legislature has not written a new law governing such cases, the U.S. Senate will have to seat some Blagojevich appointment, or meet without a Senator from Illinois.

Blagojevich has not been impeached and removed from office, nor has he been convicted of a crime. He is still the Governor of Illinois with the associated power and authority. It's hard for me to imagine a power-hungry pol (Nixon? Clinton? Stevens? Rostenkowski? Wright? Delay?) simply resigning for no better reason than to help out his party.

And besides, is Burris really any worse than Senator Dodd?

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on December 30, 2008 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Justmy... good point on caucus vs. seating.

Will the Congressional Black Caucus, from the House side, raise a squawk if Reid does that? Especially since Senate Dems welcomed Joementum with still-open arms?

These and more are all good questions.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 30, 2008 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

I've seen more legally inclined commenters than myself say the same thing as you, citing Powell v. McCormack, but it seems this matter is complicated because it's an appointment and not popular election.

Looking very briefly at the case, I don't know that this distinction would matter very much. The Court doesn't seem to have relied on the fact that the rep was elected; it seems to have based its decision on the fact that Art I sec 5 gives Congress the right to judge "qualifications" only in an extremely narrow sense (i.e., old enough, etc.).

Granted, if the present Supreme Court wanted to uphold Reid's hypothetical action to block Burris, they could use this difference to distinguish the case from Powell without overruling it. But it is hard to see why the election/appointment difference should make a difference in the legal analysis. If Burris is appointed, it will be pursuant to democratically enacted procedures.

Posted by: jeebus on December 30, 2008 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

I merely wish to pile on Reid and the Dems. They are afraid to stand up to Lieberman who actively opposed them. They are never able or willing to stand up to the repubes. But they rush to stand up on this. What a bunch of wortjless schmuks.

Posted by: bubba on December 30, 2008 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

It's like the last 48 years of constitutional law never happened...

Bubba, you fail to understand, Lieberman is the Right Kind of Guy. He lets the Democrats keep up the charade of pretending to be good guys while letting him take the fall for all their cowardly, pro-corporatist BS. Plus, looks like they do and he's white so no matter how corrupt he gets the benefit of the doubt.

Burris has no real history of extreme pro-corporatism. He would likely try to push the Senate to the left. He's not white, so despite the fact that he's clearly not corrupt, they are predisposed to believe that he's capable of corruption.

Posted by: soullite on December 30, 2008 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

I'm from Illinois, and I have thought all along that Burris would be a fine pick as a 2-year caretaker, but not by Blago. Burris should have turned Blago down; he would have gotten the job anyway. I would really like to know what Burris is thinking.
Of course, Blago could have been impeached and removed by now. Until he is, he's still the gov. White has no reason not to certify Burris other than an ad hominem argument against Blago.

Posted by: Tim H on December 30, 2008 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

soullite, you're not getting it. This isn't about blocking a black man. This is about blocking any appointment of Blago's, including the black man he chose partly because blocking him would engender statements like "He's not white, so despite the fact that he's clearly not corrupt, they are predisposed to believe that he's capable of corruption."

Do you honestly believe these guys would accept a Blago appointment who was white? Do you?

Posted by: shortstop on December 30, 2008 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK
Good for them. It might have been tempting for them to seat Burris and end the questions about the vacancy, but Senate Dems did the right thing and followed through on their threat to Blagojevich.

Actually, the action they mention in this letter (not seating him in the Democratic caucus) is completely unrelated to what they threatened in the earlier letter (examination of qualifications -- presumably with a look to rejection -- to a seat in the Senate.)

Essentially, all they are saying now is that being appointed by Rod Blagojevich makes you less of a Democrat than Joe Lieberman, that membership in the caucus is more about optics than substance.

Posted by: cmdicely on December 30, 2008 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

Bad for them...even though they will undoubtedly back down in the end...just like they did with Lieberman.

Burris has been legally appointed by the Governor and has no taint of scandal. Nor is there any indication of impropriety in his selection. If this is still a nation of laws, Burris should be seated.

Scoundrel though he may be, this was a brilliant political move on Blago's part.

Posted by: bdrube on December 30, 2008 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

Get serious. PC Dems indulging in a high tech lynching of a black man?

Posted by: Luther on December 30, 2008 at 11:30 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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