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Zipping His Lip

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 19, 2009; 11:02 AM

When Roland Burris was trying to fight his way into the Senate, he talked to journalists around the clock, held impromptu news conferences and went on every television show that would have him.

Now that he has told four or five versions of his involvement with the banished Blago and there are calls for his political scalp, the Illinois Democrat has changed his approach to the press.

Henceforth, he declared yesterday in a speech describing himself as too busy with public policy to deal with this tawdriness, he will not "engage the media and have facts drip out on a selective basis."

There's a word for that approach. It's called stonewalling.

I'll leave it to others to judge whether Burris should be sent packing. But when you start complaining about selective sound bites, what it really means is that you don't want to answer journalists' questions. In fact, Burris refused to answer an audience question on the scandal at Chicago's City Club.

What's to stop Burris from doing an extended live interview on his dealings with the Blago crowd, so it can't be cut up into snippets? Heck, he's welcome to come on my show and take his best shot.

Burris's problem, of course, is that he insisted he had limited contact with the gang around Rod Blagojevich but later said in an affidavit that he had discussions about raising money for the embattled governor. What's more, he actually made calls to raise cash for said embattled governor.

In other words, the very argument that he made to be seated -- that, whatever the ethical concerns swirling around Blago, he, Burris, was untainted -- has now evaporated.

Burris originally framed the Senate's attempt to keep him out in racial terms, and the Democrats realized it would politically difficult to exclude someone who, in replacing Barack Obama, would be its only African American member. But the Chicago fundraising mess in which Burris is now enmeshed is not a question of black or white but one of green.

Whether Burris can hang on for the duration of his two-year term depends in part on whether the media will grow tired of the story once he withdraws the oxygen of providing interviews.

"Sen. Roland Burris' failure to fully disclose his ties to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich has put his future in the Senate 'in question,' Sen. Dick Durbin said Wednesday," the Chicago Tribune reports. "Even as Burris urged Illinois politicians and citizens to 'stop the rush to judgment,' the remarks by Durbin -- and those by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- captured the political maelstrom that has engulfed Illinois' junior senator in his first month on the job."

This column by the Trib's John Kass suggests that the lawmaker's standing at home isn't real high:


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