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Burris and Blago: What Happens Now?


The NYT says that Danny Davis was initially offered Barack Obama’s Senate seat on December 24, but he turned it down on Friday the 26th.  He did, however, recommend Roland Burris for the position.  Blagojevich made the offer on Sunday, and Burris accepted:

On Monday, before the plan was announced, Mr. Burris said he asked his staff to contact Mr. Obama and other Democratic leaders. Somehow, the calls did not reach Mr. Obama, Mr. Burris said.

Yesterday four African American House members —  Maxine Waters of California, Donald M. Payne of New Jersey, Donna M.C. Christensen of the Virgin Islands, and Davis himself — called for Burris to be seated:

“I do think it’s a dilemma for the leadership of the party,” Representative Payne said, referring to Democratic leaders in the Senate. “Everyone acknowledges that he’s a great choice. So to deny that person, I just think would send a disappointing signal.”

Throughout Wednesday the telephone lines were burning in the studios of WVON, a black talk radio station in Chicago, where scores of callers voiced their outrage at what they described as the racist efforts to block Mr. Burris from taking his seat.

happy_harry_reid.thumbnail.jpgIt would certainly be interesting to watch the same Senate who gave convicted felon Ted Stevens a standing ovation (Reid calling him "distinguished colleague") exclude Burris.

Secretary of State Jesse White has said he will refuse to sign the paper work certifying the appointment, but it’s not clear that his signature represents anything more than a formality.  Nonetheless Burris is suing to force him to sign (PDF).

Reid, who didn’t want to risk losing the seat by holding a special election, is still keeping his finger on the scale:

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)  called White on Wednesday to "thank him for his strong position on this important matter," White spokesman Henry Haupt  said.

The Washington Post says there are several possible "next steps":

  • 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.

There are differing opinions as to whether the Senate can refuse to seat him.  Jack Balkin thinks they can, but Scott Lemieux is not so sure.  Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog also weighs in.

Harry Reid has sworn to use his mastery of Senate procedure to block the Burris appointment and protect the integrity of that very exclusive club, which nonetheless warmly embraces Joe Lieberman.   rt_lieberman_070511_070511_msthumbnail.thumbnail.jpg

If only he had been so Johnny-on-the-spot when Bush was appointing Supreme Court Justices, ramming through telecom immunity, FISA and the Military Commissions Act, and otherwise trashing the country.

I think this may be my favorite part, however:

Should Roland Burris show up Tuesday for duty in the Senate, armed police officers stand ready to bar him from the floor.

This cinematic showdown is among an elaborate set of contingencies that Democratic leaders are planning if, as expected, the Illinoisan shows up with newly elected senators pressing his claim that he is the legitimate replacement for President-elect Barack Obama after the disputed appointment of Burris by Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich.

Would that by any chance be the Sergeant-at-Arms, who oversees the Capital police, who was never deployed to enforce congressional subpoenas when the Bush administration refused to comply?

So many powers at their disposal!  Who knew?

Blago could actually show up himself on Tuesday — as a sitting governor he would have to be allowed on the Senate floor, even if they won’t allow Burris.

It would be quite fitting.  Not that they needed any help, but Blago has done a damn good job of making the Democratic leadership look absolutely ridiculous.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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