Harry Reid, what the heck were you thinking?
And legal advisors, Democrats, and staff: where were you on this circus?
With a clear majority in Congress, a President-elect like we’ve never had before and an inauguration promising to bring out the largest crowds ever, how in the world could a dishonored Governor in Illinois and his antics give the Democratic Party a black eye?
By CHARLES BABINGTON
Senate Democrats who thought they could push away Roland Burris misjudged the racial fallout, underestimated public reaction and wound up on shaky legal ground.
The blunders began when the Democrats, including President-elect Barack Obama, insisted they would not seat Burris as the Senate’s only black member because the appointment came from a governor accused of trying to sell Obama’ former seat.
On Wednesday, they all but admitted being outflanked by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, praising Burris and suggesting he soon will be a senator.
Eight days ago, Obama and Senate Democratic leaders saw Blagojevich as so politically damaged that they announced they would reject anyone he appointed to finish Obama’s term. Every Democratic senator signed a letter to the same effect.
Privately, key Democrats now admit they miscalculated from the start. They spent this week trying to backtrack and save face.
Backtrack in motion. Senate-designate Roland Burris talks with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Reid’s office on Capitol Hill, January 7, 2009.(Larry Downing/Reuters)
They had overstated their legal powers to block Burris’s appointment, they said, and failed to foresee the ability of Burris—a little-known Democrat with no apparent ties to Blagojevich’s misdeeds—to make himself a sympathetic figure in the national media.
Race complicated the matter, with many people asking how Democrats could prevent Burris from replacing Obama as the only black senator.
Underlying the Democrats’ initial response to Blagojevich’s appointment was a cold political calculation. Many felt that Burris, who unsuccessfully sought his party’s nomination for governor three times, would be a weak nominee when the Senate seat comes up for election in 2010. Knowing an incumbent senator can be hard to beat in a party primary, Senate Democrats had hoped to postpone acting on Blagojevich’s choice until if and when the governor was replaced, making it possible to put a more potent campaigner in the Senate seat.
Now, however, Democratic senators and strategists are reconciling themselves to the possibility of being stuck with Burris.
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By Dana Milbank
The Washington Post
Thursday, January 8, 2009; Page A03
“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.
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