Democratic Senators Yield to Burris

Senators apparently had an about-face regarding Roland Burris, the appointee of Illinois' beleaguered governor.
Senators apparently had an about-face regarding Roland Burris, the appointee of Illinois' beleaguered governor. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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By Dana Milbank
Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Under these circumstances, anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus."

-- Last week's statement on Roland Burris by Democratic Senate leaders.

"He obviously is a very engaging, extremely nice man. He presents himself very well. He's very proud of his family. He's got two Ph.D.s and two law degrees, and he talked about how proud he was having those degrees."

-- Yesterday's statement on Roland Burris by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

There were more caves in Washington yesterday than in the mountains of Afghanistan.

A week ago, Senate Democrats, with Shermanesque certainty and the backing of President-elect Barack Obama, said that Rod Blagojevich's Senate appointee would not be seated in the chamber -- no way, no how. "It will ultimately not stand," they vowed. Yesterday, they executed a near-perfect climb down, announcing that they would be happy to have Burris in the Senate after clearing up a couple of minor technicalities -- "a pretty easy hurdle to get over," as Reid put it.

Score one for the Illinois governor, who, on his way to likely impeachment and possibly the slammer, managed to outwit the leadership of his party.

While Reid spent two news conferences trying to explain that he had not been "outmaneuvered" by a man caught on tape allegedly trying to sell a Senate seat, an elated Burris booked a room in the Hyatt on Capitol Hill to hold a celebration. He hopped onto the stage and paused to look around the room, grinning, before he spoke. "My whole interest in this experience has been to be prepared, Roland, to represent my great state," he said, addressing himself aloud. "And very shortly, I will have the opportunity to do that as a junior senator from the fifth-largest state in this great country of ours. Isn't it great?"

He disclosed that he had already received a congratulatory phone call from Jimmy Carter. And, like any victorious pol, he singled out a supporter in the room: "Dick Barber, stand up! He's from Somerset, New Jersey!"

Blagojevich's triumph over Democratic leaders in Washington has a lot to do with his deft playing of the race card. Even as they backed down yesterday, Senate Democratic leaders anxiously explained that their former opposition to Burris had nothing to do with his skin color.

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