Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What a Difference a Day Makes: Obama and Reid On Board With Burris Appointment

As I expected, the Democrats are backing down from their unnecessarily rigid position with respect to Roland Burris. The political trouble surrounding Bill Richardson served as a wake-up call to Democrats, who seemed to forget that taking a zero-tolerance attitude toward unproven allegations of ethical or legal violations does not promote the party's interests -- even if it helped Obama and Reid prevent Blagojevich from appointing someone other than their preferred candidate to the Senate. [Editor's Note: The widespread opposition among constitutional law scholars to their plan to reject any candidate Blagojevich appointed probably factored into the decision as well. Or perhaps that is just wishful thinking on my part.]

So, on the same day that Richardson dropped out of the Cabinet process, Reid began to soften his rhetoric on Burris. And yesterday, the signs became even warmer after Senator Diane Feinstein publicly blasted Democrats for failing to sit Burris. Feinstein, who is an outgoing member of the credentials committee, has a powerful voice on the subject of receiving members to the Senate. At that point, the writing was on the wall.

Today, Reid sounds like the careful and flexible seeker of "equal justice" that he was during the Clinton impeachment. After meeting with Burris this morning, Reid made the following statement:

Roland Burris, to me, appears to be candid and forthright. Without any hesitation, he prepared an affidavit that the impeachment committee for the Illinois state assembly already has, and he's going to go answer any other questions they might have.

"He's not trying to avoid any responsibility and trying to hide anything . . . .
Reid also suggested that the issue of seating Burris depends only upon the signing of his commission by the rebellious Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who has claimed discretion to veto Governor Blagojevich by refusing to perform a ministerial act required by law. And while many sources believed that the Senate would try to drag out this matter until Blagojevich was removed from office (or convicted), Reid has indicated that he wants a quick resolution of the issue:

There's going to come a time when the entire Senate is going to have to act on this . . . .And that day, I hope, would come sooner rather than later.
Obama Tones Down His Rhetoric as Well
Senator Obama has also moderated his stance on Burris. Obama, who had previously called for Blagojevich to resign and who disagreed with the seating of any appointment he made, has struck a conciliatory tone:

[I] know Roland Burris. Obviously, I've -- he's from my home state. I think he's a fine public servant. If he gets seated, then I'm going to work with Roland Burris, just like I work with all the other senators, to make sure that the people of Illinois and the people of the country are served.
My take: Once the Democrats realized that their hard line against Blagojevich and their broad and amorphous taint argument could imperil other Democrats (like Richardson), they had to retreat. But they could not retreat by softening their opposition to Blagojevich; otherwise, he would look victorious.

Their only way out of this mess was through Burris. If they could legitimize his appointment -- rather than portraying it as tainted -- then they could come away looking as if they made a righteous decision. This is precisely why Obama, Reid, and other Democrats now glowingly describe Burris as ethical and honest. They are trying to distinguish him from Blagojevich and create a narrative which portrays their dramatic retreat (or loss) on the issue as the acceptance of a fine candidate after an investigation of his background and his appointment, rather than capitulation to a corrupt and unpopular governor.

The only question that remains: Will a top Democrat now call Jesse White and tell him to end his silly protest or will Democrats force the Illinois Supreme Court to decide this bothersome matter?

Update: Huffington Post reports that Obama gave the marching orders to seat Burris. This confirms my initial belief that he also gave the initial order NOT to seat Burris. Obama offered statements condemning Blagojevich after the arrest and insisting that he should step down and refrain from filling the Senate seat. He also condemned the appointment of Burris. Today, he offered praise for Burris. This conduct is odd for someone who has no stake in the outcome. Also, recall Obama's role in getting the Democrats to reconcile with Lieberman, although many of them wanted to oust him from seniority on certain committees. The Senate-Obama honeymoon remains in full effect. But one has to wonder whether any damage was done, especially with Reid, who comes out of this situation looking pretty weak.

Update Number 2: In my original post, I speculated that the Senate would attempt to clean up this mess by explaining their objection to Burris as a desire to "investigate" his background and appointment and avoid looking as if they loss to Blagojevich. Well, it did not take too long to confirm this, via statements from Senators Durbin and Reid:
[Durbin:]I think it was important that the United States Senate say — and we did, as a Democratic caucus unanimously — that we were going to carefully scrutinize and review the process by which this Senate seat would be filled if Governor Blagojevich was involved, and that's what happened.

[Reid:]People ask a lot of times why we have to do various things procedurally here in the Senate. It's because we're the Senate; that's how we operate.

Ok. So your objection to "anyone" that Blagojevich appointed was merely a procedural concern that you could wrap up in less than one week? Why didn't you say that in the first place?

Related Readings on Dissenting Justice:

A Harry Reid Flip-Flop? Comparing His Views on Bill Clinton and Rod Blagojevich

Feinstein Smacks Down Reid and Fellow Democrats Regarding Burris

Joe Lieberman and Rick Warren In, Roland Burris Out: No "Place at the Table" for Senior, Loyal Democrat

On Day That Bill Richardson Announces Withdrawal Harry Reid Softens Rhetoric on Burris

Will Bill Richardson's Case Lead to a Softening of the Rhetoric of "Taint"?

Patrick Buchanan Shows Greater Commitment to Liberal Values Than Senate Democrats, Defends Roland Burris

So When Exactly Does "Change" Arrive? Senate Battle Over Burris and Blagojevich Offers "More of the Same"!

Do Nepotism, Wealth and Dynastic Power "Taint" Kennedy's Likely Senate Appointment? Taking Reid's Arguments Where He Wouldn't Want Them to Go

Some Media Outlets Begin "Palinizing" Roland Burris

On Day That Bill Richardson Announces Withdrawal Harry Reid Softens Rhetoric on Burris

Defiant Blagojevich Names Obama's Successor: Decision Raises Political and Constitutional Questions

Like It or Not, Democracy Prevails: Illinois Supreme Court Refuses to Declare Blagojevich Unfit to Serve

Blago Impeachment: What Would Lincoln Do?

Playing or Paying Politics: Blagojevich, Political DealMaking, and the Difficulty of Drawing Lines


Infidel753 said...

Isn't there anything in the law, or in the Senate's ethics rules, about the propriety of an appointment to high office made by a Governor who has been arrested (even if not convicted) for the very crime of trying to sell an appointment to high office? If not, it seems like a strange omission.

I don't have a strong view about Burris one way or another. The spectacle of Blagojevich making such an appointment after being caught red-handed and arrested for trying to sell that very Senate seat just seems bizarre.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

It's actually not that strange. The constitution basically allows states to police their own governors through the impeachment process. Feds can prosecute them for crimes, but doing so does not remove them from office. This is not an "everyday" occurrence, which explains the lack or rules.

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