So, there they were, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Dick Durbin, the senior member of the upper house from Illinois, and the man chosen to fill the remaining two years of Barack Obama’s Senate term, Roland Burris – exchanging niceties and smiles one day after the infamous showdown on the Hill. It was as if Tuesday’s spectacle of Burris being turned away after his credentials were rejected by the secretary of the Senate had not occurred. So goes the politics of Capitol Hill, about as predictable as the weather.
All of the theatrics are tied to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, his arrest, and his practice of “pay to play,” as alleged by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. At the center of the scandal is the vacant Illinois Senate seat once held by President-elect Barack Obama and the charge by the U.S. Attorney that the governor sought to put the seat up for sale. Sensing that Blagojevich was cooked, Democrats, including the President-elect and Senator Reid, immediately demanded the governor resign. As it turned out, he did not and in the aftermath Blagojevich outmaneuvered his critics; one of them being the Senate Majority Leader.
It was Reid’s miscalculation that created the circus like atmosphere at the Capitol yesterday, and not the actions of Roland Burris, as a few media outlets have suggested. Burris was legitimately appointed by an acting governor who had the legal authority to do so. Rather than accept the fact that Governor Blagojevich had dug in his heels, Reid attempted to make an example of him and in the process created a nightmare. By picking Burris to fill President-elect Obama’s seat, Blagojevich raised the stakes for Democrats and, in turn, forced their hand over the naming of a successor. By jumping out early on the “he ought to resign” bandwagon Reid had little room to maneuver by the time the governor chose Burris.
One thing is for certain, Reid’s handling of the matter left much to be desired. His “draw a line in the sand” posture and pronouncement that Burris would not be sworn-in gave the party a black eye just days before the historic inauguration of the first Black President. In fact, it was just plain stupid. No matter what the opinion of Blagojevich, the selection of Burris is legitimate for the simple fact that the sitting, duly elected governor made it. The attempt to punish Blagojevich by rejecting Burris, a replacement for the only Black member of the Senate, was an unnecessary distraction in the midst of a global economic crisis and international conflict.
Now it seems Reid has come to his senses after some of his colleagues expressed support for the former Illinois Attorney General and it became clear there was little legal ground to stand on in blocking Burris. There was nothing gained by the Democrats by Reid’s attempt to score ethical points on the back of Roland Burris. Let’s hope this matter is quickly resolved as there is serious work to be done by the 111th Congress and the Obama administration.