Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Blagojevich Appoints Burris

Burris: Blago Makes A Brilliant, Selfish Move

Unbelievable. He actually did it. As if nothing ever happened.

Rod Blagojevich just named former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to Barack Obama's Senate seat.

Harry Reid and Dick Durbin (currently the only Illinois Senator) fired off a "we won't seat him" press release as soon as word leaked, with the obligatory "it's not about you, Roland" disclaimer. But there's a school of thought that the Senate can't refuse to seat an appointed Senator.

The Constitution says the Senate is the "Judge of Elections, Returns and Qualifications" of its own members. Burris is qualified in the sense of age, citizenship and residence, and there's no election or returns to judge.

The only possible end-around is in Illinois, where Secretary of State Jesse White says he'll refuse to certify the appointment. What we don't know yet is whether that's an unimportant technicality or even within his rights; he may be required by law to do the simple, ministerial act of certifying "yes, the governor signed this appointment."

The Senate can, however, seat Burris and then immediately expel him. That takes 66 or 67 votes (depending on whether the other vacancies are filled and whether Burris can vote on his own expulsion). That'll take some Republican votes, and most of them would probably prefer to seat Burris and embarrass the Democratic Senate leadership.

And expulsion becomes not just about Blagojevich, in spite of what the official statements say. Expulsion is so rare that the last time a Senator was expelled was for supporting the freakin' Confederacy. So it becomes at least in part about Burris, and there's the selfish brilliance of Blagojevich's move.

Roland Burris is a respected elder statesman of Illinois politics and would be, if seated, the only African American senator (the other one got a new job). Burris himself hasn't been named in any of the indictments or speculation, and at age 71 he looks like a placeholder until the original Obama term is up in 2010.

The governor with no friends has just gotten the "something tangible up front" that he wanted out of this Senate appointment: the forcibly annexation of Roland Burris and his many friends. Already, people like Rep. Bobby Rush (who got primaried in 2000 by some kid named Obama), Rep. Danny Davis, and State Senate leader Emil Jones (that same Obama's mentor in the legislature) are speaking out for Burris, defending his qualifications while trying to distance him from Blago.

"Blatant appeal to race," write the Illinois Capitol Fax Blog (must-read post), which added the emphasis:
Rush asked his audience “not to hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointor.”

“There are no African-Americans in the Senate and I don’t think anyone — any U. S. Senator that’s sitting in the Senate right now wants to go on record to deny one African-American from being seated in the U.S. Senate.

“Feel free to castigate the appointor but don’t lynch the appointor,” Governor Rod Blagojevich said as he left.

Secretary of State White, who's also African American, said: “Even though Roland Burris is an African American, it doesn’t mean that an appointment by a different governor would not be [a black person].”

This is a classic rhetorical dilemma that I learned the hard way during Gulf War 1 covering a protest. A conservative counter-picketer screamed, "You can't support the troops and oppose the war." That's a fallacy, but an effective one, and Blagojevich is banking on that kind of illogic. After all, you cant support the appointee without supporting the appointer, right? The appointment, if Blagojevich makes it stick, asserts his authority and legitimacy, a nice distraction which, he thinks, buys him some time to cut his deal.

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