Burris Adds to Drama Facing U.S. Senate
Thursday, January 1, 2009
With five days until the start of the 111th Congress, the corruption scandal surrounding Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) has complicated what was already shaping up to be a dramatic start in the Senate.
Senate Democrats are left to deal with the mess of the successions of President-elect Barack Obama, Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton and Interior Secretary-designate Ken Salazar.
But the most high-profile scenario involves what Democrats will do if Roland W. Burris, Blagojevich's choice, makes good on his pledge to appear Tuesday on Capitol Hill to try to take the oath of office for Obama's seat.
"I'm absolutely confident and certain that the United States Senate is going to seat a man of Roland Burris's unquestioned integrity, extensive experience and his long history of public service. This is about Roland Burris as a United States senator, not about the governor who makes the appointment," Blagojevich told reporters.
This defiance has left several possible outcomes:
· Burris arrives on Tuesday and is sworn in with the senators who were elected in November.
· Burris shows up, and his appointment is rejected because the Illinois secretary of state, Jesse White, has refused to sign the paperwork certifying the appointment.
· Burris shows up in Washington, and his appointment is referred to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which conducts an investigation of his selection by the governor to determine whether Burris should be seated.
· The matter ends up in Illinois and federal courts as Burris tries to force the Senate to seat him.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, other Democratic leaders and top Senate Republicans have indicated that they have no appetite for seating Burris. Democrats, including Obama, declared that Blagojevich is too scandal-tarred to make any appointment to a Senate seat he was allegedly trying to auction off for his personal financial benefit.
Outside experts on Senate procedure think this will be a stalling tactic to await impeachment proceedings to conclude in Illinois, so Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn can become governor and make a new appointment. Some have questioned the legal legitimacy of refusing to seat Burris for any ethical -- and possibly legal -- sins of Blagojevich.
But Eric Ueland, a parliamentary and legal expert on the Senate, said yesterday that precedent has allowed the Senate to conduct investigations of troubling elections. This would make the matter not "justiciable," Ueland said, keeping courts out of the dispute because the Senate has proper jurisdiction.