Sunday, January 11, 2009


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has an identity problem. In blocking the lawful and legitimate appointment of Roland Burris - admittedly tarnished by its maker, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich - the Nevada Democrat apparently thought he was the king of Illinois, with the veto power over whom Illinois could send to the Senate.

Yes, this is the new ethics-enriched Congress under Democratic leadership. Be it noted, this whole Burris mess could have been avoided if the Democratic-led Illinois Legislature had called a special election when President-elect Barack Obama’s seat was vacated. But Illinois solons were not willing to risk losing to a Republican win in a fair election. Thus, they handed Mr. Blagojevich an opening to wreak mischief by naming Mr. Burris, a former Illinois attorney general of good reputation.

Then Mr. Reid added to the damage. Mr. Burris has not been implicated in the Blagojevich corruption probe, yet King Harry impugned Mr. Burris - then refused to seat him based on dubious Senate rules. Mr. Reid was acting as if the Senate is a club in which happily ensconced long-time members can refuse to admit entering riffraff. But it doesn’t work that way.

Everyone in Washington has known Mr. Reid would have to give in and allow Mr. Burris to be seated. In meeting with Mr. Burris Wednesday, Mr. Reid initiated the first steps in the Washington dance of folding while pretending not to fold in inglorious defeat.

Mr. Reid looks better for not having seated Democrat Al Franken as the Minnesota senator while Republican Norm Coleman contests the election results. Note I have refrained from using titles. Mr. Coleman, the incumbent until recently, is no longer the senator from Minnesota. Mr. Franken’s 225-vote lead (out of 2.9 million votes cast) was certified by the state Canvassing Board, but the board did not declare a winner. The tally is not final as Mr. Coleman is pursuing an “election contest” to prompt the counting of 654 rejected ballots.

Some Democrats want Mr. Reid to seat Mr. Franken “provisionally.” Some Republicans want Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty to name Mr. Coleman to retain the seat until the election is final. This week, Mr. Reid told Roll Call, a newspaper of Capitol Hill, that he will not seat Mr. Franken for the near future, pending final resolution. Mr. Reid’s patience - like that of Minnesota voters - may give out.

I think Mr. Reid should pursue both proposals: Let him provisionally seat both Mr. Coleman and Mr. Franken - make them share an office until the election is settled. It worked for the twin daughters in “The Parent Trap.”

True, Mr. Franken and Mr. Coleman are not identical twins separated at birth. But just maybe if they are shut together in tight quarters, then they could learn to make nice. They need to, because some day, after a full and transparent counting of the votes, there will be a certified winner in a contest so close it may be decided by .01 percent of the vote. Let’s hope the final count will not produce one winner and one sore loser.

Debra J. Saunders is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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