The End Of The Whole Mess

Ending a rediculous Capitol Hill soap opera, Roland Burris will be seated in the United States Senate on Thursday:

The Secretary of the Senate has determined that the new credentials presented today on behalf of Mr. Burris now satisfy Senate Rules and validate his appointment to the vacant Illinois Senate seat. In addition, as we requested, Mr. Burris has provided sworn testimony before the Illinois House Committee on Impeachment regarding the circumstances of his appointment.

“We have spoken to Mr. Burris to let him know that he is now the Senator-designate from Illinois and as such, will be accorded all the rights and privileges of a Senator-elect.

That was a joint statement from Majority Leader Reid and Majority Whip Durbin.

At first, I was vehemently opposed to seating anyone appointed by Rod Blagojevich.  But, as time went on, it became apparent that Senate Democrats had no legal way to block Burris from entering the Senate and that they were just stalling for time.  Let’s face it, the Jesse White gambit was dubiously legal and was pretty much doomed from the start.

I’m glad Harry Reid & co. finally relented, if for no other reason than to make the Burris sideshow go away;  with all they have on their plate, Senate Democrats couldn’t really afford to keep being distracted by this nonsense.

Plus, once Burris takes his seat there will be 58 Democrats in the Senate, making it that much easier to pass legislation.  To that extent, I’m looking forward to seeing Senator Burris taking the oath of office.

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IL-SEN: Impasse

Well, the Roland Burris saga just got a lot more complicated.

While the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that Secretary of State Jesse White’s signature isn’t necessary for Burris’ appointment to be valid, they also refused to force White to certify the appointment.

And we’re at an impasse–while  Burris says he doesn’t need White’s signature and thus is entitled to his Senate seat, the Senate is continuing to insist he gets White’s signature, since–as a federal institution–their rules aren’t trumped by a state supreme court.

This is a classic conflict between the federal government and a state government, which is why it will probably end up in the federal court system and may even make it up to the Supreme Court.

There are a lot of legal questions that need answering–does Jesse White have the power to defy Rod Blagojevich? Is his signature necessary for Burris’ appointment to be valid? And does the Senate have the right to essentially exclude him if he doesn’t have White’s signature?

It’s pretty clear that–after his testimony in Blagojevich’s impeachment investigation–Senate Democrats don’t want Burris in Congress.  It looks like their strategy is to delay seating Burris until the Illinois Senate removes Blagojevich from office, thus making Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn Governor and allowing him to make an appointment of his own.

That, of course, would pose even more issues–if Burris is still in limbo and someone new is appointed, certified and accepted by the Senate, would they trump Burris? Or is Burris entitled to the seat by virtue of having been appointed by the Governor first, even if he was delayed in taking his Senate seat?

This isn’t as cut and dry as I first thought–I figured the Illinois courts would compel White to certify Burris’ appointment.  Instead, they issued a ruling directly in conflict with Senate rules. So now this is likely to wind up in the federal courts, and we might even get a Supreme Court ruling out of it.  But, for now, Barack Obama’s former Senate seat will remain empty.

IL Supreme Court: No Signature Needed

Illinois’ Supreme Court just ruled that Roland Burris doesn’t need Secretary of State Jesse White’s signature in order to be seated as a United States Senator:

Petitioners are not entitled to an order from this court requiring the Secretary to perform those Acts. Under the Secretary of State Act, the Secretary’s sole responsibility was to register the appointment (15 ILCS 305/5(2) (West 2006)), which he did. No further action is required by the Secretary of State or any other official to make the Governor’s appointment of Roland Burris to the United States Senate valid under Illinois law.

This puts the ball back in Harry Reid’s court.  At this point, the best course of action would be to just seat Burris; Senate Democrats hitched themselves to Jesse White’s gambit and –in the wake of this ruling–they no longer have a legal leg to stand on in order to block Burris.

Punting Burris to the Rules Committee or having the full Senate vote on whether or not to seat him would be pointless, since no other valid appointee is subjected to either of those procedures.  Unless Reid is planning on doing the same for whoever replaces Salazar, Clinton & Biden, not immediately seating Burris would look pointlessly hypocritical.

A Whole Deck Of Race Cards

This needs to stop:

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) became Burris’ most vocal defender. He likened Senate Democratic leaders, who said they would not seat a Blagojevich appointment, to George Wallace and Bull Connor and warned Senate Democrats not to “hang or lynch” Burris. Tonight on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” Rush went further, comparing the Senate’s refusal to seat Burris yesterday to one of the most violent chapters of the civil rights movement:

RUSH: It reminded me of the dogs being sicced on children in Birmingham, Alabama. That’s what it reminded me of.

The rejection of Roland Burris had nothing to do with race. Before Blagojevich made the appointment–even before we knew he would even make an appointment–all 50 Senate Democrats signed a letter pledging to oppose anyone Blagojevich appointed. That had nothing to do with race.

The Senate kept Burris out because he didn’t have a certification of his appointment signed by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.  Yeah, they excluded Burris on a technicality, but the  rule requiring a certification has been in place since 1884, and–as far as I can tell–was only violated once, in 1910.  Burris wanted the Senate to break a rule that’s stood unblemished for 99 years and they refused, a decision that had nothing to do with race.

The one guy standing most in the way of Burris’ appointment to the Senate is Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who is refusing to grant him a certification.  This is White:

white1

So the single largest source of Roland Burris’ problems is, like him, African-American.  Does that put this racism nonsense to bed yet?

Look, the ‘racism’ talking point is just a cynical attempt by Bobby Rush and Team Blago to get their guy into the Senate.  They know race has nothing to do with this, but they’re playing a  whole deck of race cards in the hopes they can manipulate the situation and sling mud all over the Democratic caucus.  Harry Reid and Senate Democrats bungled the Burris situation–badly–but it’s more than obvious their actions weren’t motivated by race.

Bobby Rush should be ashamed of himself for crying wolf and thus cheapening the struggles of those who have actually fought against racism.

Burris Deal Reached? (UPDATED X4)

Roland Burris and the Senate Democrats are holding a joint press conference soon, which signals to me that they’ve reached some kind of deal; seeing Burris sitting side-by-side with Harry Reid smiling and laughing is a far cry from his brief press conference in the rain yesterday.

Most likely, the deal will be that Burris will be allowed to take the seat as long as he pledges not to run for re-election in 2010.

Senate Democrats bungled the situation badly, but they’re not completely stupid–they know the courts will compel Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to certify Burris’ appointment, leaving them without a legal way to deny Burris his seat. By cutting a deal now, they get this story out of the headlines and avoid being forced by the courts to seat him. It’s a way to save face, which I guess I can get behind. Plus, Burris might not be perfect, but he’s a fine enough pick for the seat.

I’ll update when I have more information.

UPDATE: The AP is reporting that there is a deal, but has no information as to what the terms are.

UPDATE II: Reid starts out by praising Burris, but goes on to say that Secretary of State White still has to sign off on the appointment before Burris can take his seat.

Durbin also starts out by praising Burris and goes on to say that the confrontation over Burris has nothing to do with race; he notes that Jesse White, who is holding up Burris appointment, is also African-American.

UPDATE III: Durbin is defending the rule that requires appointees to have a certification before they are allowed to take their seats in the Senate; he seems to be implying that Burris could very well be seated if he gets a valid certification. Durbin goes on to say that the Rules committee will take up the issue and make recommendations once that occurs.

In response to a press question, Reid says that White’s signature is “vital.”

UPDATE IV: Reid is clarifying that he has no problem with Burris as an individual, but noting that Burris will be testifying in regards to Blagojevich tomorrow, which will be a “very important” hearing. He also seems to be implying that the full Senate will vote on whether or not to seat Burris.

Here We Go

The Secretary of the United States Senate has rejected Roland Burris’ appointment:

Firing the first shot in Washington in the fight over the appointment of Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate, Gov. Blagojevich’s acting chief of staff hand-delivered Burris’ nomination certificate to the Capitol this morning — only to see it rejected by the secretary of the Senate.

Chief of staff Clayton Harris delivered the certificate around 8 a.m., eastern standard time, said Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero.

The secretary of the senate and two assistants acknowledged receipt of the document “but did not formally accept it” because it did not bear Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s signature, Guerrero said.

White refused to sign the certificate last week, joining the chorus of politicians who say Blagojevich is not fit to fill the vacant seat because of his Dec. 9 arrest on corruption charges. The governor and Burris are hoping the Illinois Supreme Court will force White to sign the document.

And, in all likelihood, the Illinois Supreme Court will end up forcing White to certify the appointment.

When Burris shows up to the Senate with a legal, valid certification in hand, what will Senate Democrats do? What’s Plan B? Because the certification issue is thin to begin with, and once it’s shredded by the courts, there will be no legal justification for keeping Burris out.

Fumble

In the ongoing Roland Burris saga, I’ve already written that Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s will refuse to certify Burris’ appointment, which is required for Burris to take his place in the Senate.

But it’s questionable whether or not White has the legal authority to defy Governor Blagojevich. In all likelihood he doesn’t, and Burris’ will probably take him to court and win his certification.

Unfortunately, Senate Democrats are hitching themselves to White’s gambit and will use Burris’ lack of a certification to keep him from being inaugurated tomorrow:

The first thing the Senate leadership plans to do is to demand, under Rule 2 of the Standing Rules of the Senate, a certificate containing “the name of the person elected or appointed, the date of the certificate, the name of the governor and the secretary of state signing and countersigning the same, and the State from which such Senator is elected or appointed.”

Oh, snap! At Harry Reid’s urging, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is refusing to sign such a certificate.  No idea whether White’s refusal to sign is legal or not, but that little technicality should be enough to keep the Democrats from having to seat Burris when he shows up on Tuesday.

This means that, as soon as the courts overturn White’s obstinance, Senate Democrats won’t have any justification for blocking Burris.

Then there’s this:

In a conference call with reporters, [Texas Senator John] Cornyn said Republican Senators fear that Senate Democratic leaders may try to seat Franken next week even if an official winner has not been declared in the election. But the Texan said Republicans are prepared to launch a filibuster to prevent Franken from being seated until state officials declare a winner and all legal challenges are exhausted.

“There will be no way that people on our side of the aisle will agree to seat any Senator provisionally unless a certificate of election has been signed” and all court cases about the Senate race have been completed, Cornyn said.

I wrote this morning that, according to Minnesota’s election law, Minnesota can’t certify a winner in the Senate election until Norm Coleman’s legal challenges are decided in court. In other words, Coleman can prevent Franken from being named the official winner of the election for as long as he can keep his case in the courts. And now Senate Republicans are using the same justification Senate Democrats are using with Burris to block Franken.

Yeah, it’s a mess.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Burris should be seated.  He should be expelled from the Senate as soon as he takes office, but he should be seated. Because seating him is a constitutional question, while expelling him is a political question.

Rod Blagojevich is the Governor of Illinois.  He has all the power and authority of the Governor of Illinois, including the ability to fill vacant Senate seats.  And Roland Burris meets all the constitutional requirements to be a United States Senator. The Supreme Court ruled in Powell v. McCormack that the Senate can’t keep someone from taking office if they’re constitutionally eligible, which Burris is.

But like I said, expulsion is a political question–the Senate can expel any member for any reason.  And in this case, Burris certainly should be expelled;  he was appointed to the seat Blagojevich was trying to sell to the highest bidder.  His appointment raises questions as to whether or not Burris struck some sort of deal with the Governor. There’s no evidence he did but, considering the nature of the Blagojevich scandal, Burris should have anticipated that he would get dragged into this by virtue of his acceptance.

Where does that leave things? In poor shape, unfortunately.  If the courts compel White to certify Burris, the Senate will have to seat him.  Expulsion could be the next step, but Senate Democrats would look bad for trying to do an end-run around the constitution and they’ll look like failures when Burris is inaugurated despite all of their efforts.  And now they’ve backed themselves into a corner with Franken, meaning that the Senate now has no good justification to seat Franken until Coleman has his days–or weeks, or months–in court.

All in all, Senate Democrats bungled the Burris issue from the start, and now they’ve left themselves open to criticism from a lot of places. I’m not really sure where they can go from here–hopefully they can think of something I haven’t.  Because, to me, this looks like a pretty big fumble, unfortunately.