Roland Burris has been named to fill Barack Obama's seat in the US Senate by embattled Governor Rod Blagojevich. Mr. Burris is the former Attorney General of Illinois and was the first African-American elected to statewide office in the history of the state when he became Comptroller in 1979. Mr. Burris arrived in DC today and is planning on attending the meetings for freshman Senators tomorrow. He will be faced with a few obstacles however. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority leader, has said that he will not seat Burris, and his appointment has not been validated to the Illinois Secretary of State.
Mr. Burris is proceeding under the assumption that he has been legally nominated by the Governor and he is now the junior Senator from the Illinois. We are now set up for a confrontation on the steps of the Senate tomorrow. According to the rules of the state of Illinois, the Governor is indeed the only person in the state who can appoint someone to take Barack Obama's place. He is under investigation by the US Attorney's office, but until he is removed from office, he still has the power to fill that seat. The certificate of appointment is supposed to be signed by both the Governor and the Secretary of State of Illinois, who is currently refusing to do so. This is the technicality that will be used to refuse admittance to Burris to the Senate.
The question is, should Burris be allowed to take Obama's seat? There are many who will say that Governor Blagojevich is in a compromised position and therefore anyone he picks illegitimate. No one is suggesting that Burris offered anything for the seat, but the fact that people were excluded from the process because they refused to play ball with the Governor, means that even an appointee who is apparently clean would be tainted. I personally don't think that Burris should be penalized because of the ongoing scandal. He is qualified for the position and he has been appointed by the Governor. That really should be it.
The fact is that the Governor has actually made a very good tactical choice. It may very well be a public relations ploy, but it is a very good one. He picked an African-American who has been elected statewide on multiple occasions and is someone who seems qualified for the position. Barack Obama was the only African-American in the Senate (in fact he was only the third Black person elected to the US Senate) and there has been a lot of talk about trying to find a qualified African American to replace him. By picking Burris, Blagojevich has provided himself with some political cover. The press cannot accuse him of making a bad decision or of having sold the job to the highest bidder. The press is now split over seating Burris. Blagojevich has managed to deflect unanimously negative coverage of him and turn that into a debate about the Burris appointment.
I have no idea what is ultimately going to happen, but it may come down to how badly the Democrats need the extra vote. With Al Franken's apparent win in Minnesota, seating Burris would mean that they would only need two votes from the Republicans in order to have a filibuster proof majority. I think that in the end it's not going to matter who appointed the replacement for Obama, but whether the Democrats need the vote or not. I'm sure that Harry Reid would never admit to this, but because the Blagojevich impeachment may drag out for months, he's probably going to blink first.