End game

END GAME…. After this morning’s developments, we can probably guess how the Roland Burris mess is going to turn out.

Democratic leaders are not going to seat Roland Burris immediately, but are waiting for the outcome of pending court cases and Burris’ testimony in the impeachment of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich before signing off on his entry into the Senate. All of this could unfold before the end of the week.

After a 45 minute meeting Wednesday morning, Majority Leader Harry Reid and Majority Whip Dick Durbin emerged without a deal, yet seem perilously close to saying Burris was very likely to prevail.

It’s not so much that the leadership has moved the goalposts, but rather, they’ve set the goalposts in surprisingly convenient locations.

As recently as, say, a few days ago, Reid’s position was that the Senate couldn’t possibly seat Burris, because his appointment comes by way of a corrupt governor who tried to sell the seat in question. As of this morning, Reid’s position is that the Senate might seat Burris if the Illinois Secretary of State certifies his appointment, and if Burris answers questions from the special Blagojevich impeachment committee.

Once those two rather low hurdles are cleared, Reid will probably announce that he’s satisfied. In effect, Reid is trying to take the responsibility out of his hands (and that of his caucus), and push this onto officials in Illinois.

Indeed, this morning, the Majority Leader said once the appointment is certified and state lawmakers have the information they need, “we’ll be in a different position to see what we’re going to do.” In other words, at that point, Reid will probably have run out of rationales to deny the appointment.

I think it’s fair to say Reid’s handling of this has been, for lack of a better word, clumsy. Up against a corrupt governor and an odd, self-aggrandizing would-be senator, Reid has been on the defensive for a while, and now appears poised to give in altogether.

Seating Burris is, in all likelihood, the right call. But it’s hard to argue that the Senate leadership has handled this mess effectively. It started with a simple principle: Reid and Senate Dems take a hard line on corruption. There’s obviously nothing wrong with that, but there was no real strategy in place to back it up.