- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

Disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich may be in hot water over allegations he tried to sell to the highest bidder the Senate seat vacated by the next president of the United States, but he sure knows how to get the last laugh. Just ask Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Mr. Reid was prepared to usher in the 111th session of Congress and celebrate an expanded Democratic majority. But then Mr. Blagojevich crashed the party in absentia by ignoring Mr. Reid’s warnings and appointing Roland Burris to replace President-elect Barack Obama in the Senate. Matters quickly came to a head when Mr. Burris, defying party leaders’ calls to step aside until Mr. Blagojevich is impeached and a new governor can appoint a senator, rode into town uninvited. Mr. Reid, a former boxer not afraid to get in the ring, sat down with Mr. Burris.

Though the two sat down, to seat or not to seat is the question.

Let’s start with the probable conclusion that is sure to upset some Senate Democrats and all the wannabe junior senators trying to wait out the situation back in Illinois. Mr. Burris will become the junior senator from Illinois. What could possibly stop him?

Mr. Reid, along with Senate Whip Dick Durbin, the senior senator from Illinois, laid down a couple of pre-conditions. First, before Mr. Burris can get sworn in, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White must co-sign forms that certify the governor’s appointment. Mr. Burris, a former state attorney general, is asking the Illinois Supreme Court to expedite a ruling ordering Mr. White to sign the papers, a suit most expect he will win. OK, so if the court compels the secretary of state to sign or finds no such signature is required, what then?

The second condition involves Mr. Burris’ testimony before the state legislative committee considering Mr. Blagojevich’s impeachment. Mr. Burris must explain how the appointment came about and duly swear that no money was exchanged. (He has already announced that bribery was never an option because he doesn’t have a lot of money.)

The third and final condition is that the entire matter must then go before the Senate Rules Committee. If Mr. Reid and Mr. Durbin believe this will end Mr. Burris’ drive to become the junior senator from the nation’s fifth-populous state, they better start to count their votes right now. The outgoing chair, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, has already spoken in favor of seating Mr. Burris.

“Does the governor have the power to make the appointment? And the answer is yes,” asserted Mrs. Feinstein, urging the Senate to quickly settle the matter. “If you don’t seat Mr. Burris, it has ramifications for gubernatorial appointments all over America. … Mr. Burris is a senior, experienced politician.”

There is only one conclusion. The Senate will be compelled to seat the person legally appointed by the governor. The only question is if it will occur sooner or later.

If the Senate tries through hearings and committee deliberations to not seat Mr. Burris, what principle or rule can be cited to justify it? The governor is not under indictment, though the only reason he isn’t is because the U.S. attorney asked for an extension to get his paperwork in order. And though the Illinois legislature is pursuing impeachment, Mr. Blagojevich still has all the powers associated with being the chief executive officer of his state and is legally free to appoint anyone he wants.

Even if Mr. Blagojevich were already under indictment, does the U.S. Senate have the right to declare the seat vacant until the trial is over? Even if Mr. Blagojevich is indicted, convicted, impeached, stripped of office and run out of town tarred and feathered, it all will have all occurred after - not before - he appointed Mr. Burris.

The longer the U.S. Senate allows this issue to fester, the more political trouble it will find itself in, both immediately and in the future. If new rules are established to try to block Mr. Burris, the issue of race will undoubtedly be injected into the equation. I agree the so-called “race card” should not be played, but how else can one reasonably explain why Mr. Burris is being singled out? What is his crime? Did he say or do anything in accepting the position?

As Mr. Obama recently said, “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.”

While Mr. Reid and other Senate Democrats may find it insulting and offensive to seat the appointee of a corrupt governor, as one prominent black lawmaker and legal expert told me, “The only thing worse than seating Burris is the mess that will happen if he is not seated.”

Congress, seat Mr. Burris and move on to more pressing matters, like fixing the economy and stemming the hemorrhage of U.S. jobs. Mr. Blagojevich won’t get the last laugh. That is reserved for the good people of Illinois when they are rid of a chief executive eager to sell to the highest bidder the U.S. Senate seat once held by the president-elect of the United States.

Donna Brazile is a nationally syndicated columnist and a political commentator for CNN, ABC and National Public Radio and is the former campaign manager for Al Gore.

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