Should the Senate reject Burris?

SHOULD THE SENATE REJECT BURRIS?…. OK, so there’s quite a bit of disagreement over whether the Senate has the authority to reject Roland Burris’ Senate appointment based on concerns over Rod Blagojevich. But at least there’s widespread agreement that Senate Democrats are doing the right thing by taking a stand and rejecting Blagojevich’s efforts.

Or, on second thought, maybe there isn’t.

At first blush, it seems like a no-brainer. Senate Dems have forcefully opposed Blagojevich, so it stands to reason they would stand up for an ethical process and reject Blagojevich’s stunt, Burris’ qualifications and record notwithstanding. It’s about propriety.

But there’s also a flip side. Brian Beutler, who’s slammed Blagojevich’s corruption repeatedly, argued last night that Barack Obama and Senate Democrats are “doing the wrong thing” by refusing to accept Burris’ appointment.

Politically, then, the question is: Would it really look SO bad for Dems to say something like “While we regret that Gov. Blagojevich flouted the will of Senate Democrats, we are chastened by the fact that he’s selected a decorated public servant who has no ties to the scandal hanging over the Illinois statehouse. We assume Roland Burris will serve his constituents well, and, if he fails, voters will have the final say in two years.”? I don’t really think it would. […]

It’s worth pointing out though, that Blago’s still an innocent man and as long as he’s governor, filling that seat is his prerogative. It would be a much different story if he’d gone ahead and selected somebody widely believed to have entertained the notion of buying the seat. But that’s not what happened.

Similarly, John Cole, said he “fundamentally disagrees” with the Democrats’ position on this.

We are a nation of rules, after all. How about we follow them rather than creating all this damned drama? Blagojevich will have his day in court, but for now he is legally the governor, he is legally carrying out his duties, and unless and until the Democrats grab the stones to get rid of him, they should suck it up and deal with his pick.

John added, “If Burris is clean and a good pick otherwise, seat him.”

I’m hesitant, but I’ll concede there’s a reasonable argument here. Blagojevich is the duly-elected governor, whether he should be or not. He has the legal authority and responsibility to fill the vacancy, whether he should exercise it or not. He enjoys the presumption of innocence, whether he looks guilty or not. Burris, meanwhile, is not only unrelated to the governor’s scandal, but is also otherwise qualified. He would always be known as “Blagojevich’s man in the Senate,” and there may be a permanent cloud over his office, but that’s Burris’ problem. If he’s willing to accept that burden, that’s his decision to make.

Come January, not only will Illinois need both senators, but Democrats in the chamber will need a full caucus to deal with Republican obstructionism in a time of crisis.

It’s probably too late for Democratic leaders to change their position, but the notion of accepting this appointment is arguably not as outrageous as it might seem at first glance.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation