I have a new story up on the bizarre events surrounding Roland Burris and Senate Democrats. On December 10, every Democrat in the Senate signed a letter to Rod Blagojevich, insisting that he step down and “under no circumstances make an appointment to fill the vacant Illinois Senate seat.” If Blago did so, the senators threatened, “we would be forced to exercise our Constitutional authority under Article I, Section 5, to determine whether such a person should be seated.”
That was then. Now that Harry Reid has forced Roland Burris to stand outside in the rain and cold, and now that Burris has delivered a nicely done, “I am not seeking to have any type of confrontation” performance, the Dems’ December 10 resolve seems to be crumbling. Especially that of Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
The sight of the Senate slamming the door in the face of a qualified man who would also be its only black member was apparently too much for some Democrats to stand. Some began to consider ways to accommodate Burris. Perhaps he could be seated if he promised not to run for the seat on his own in 2010. Or perhaps he could just be seated with no restrictions. By the end of the day, Feinstein, who just happens to be chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which would likely consider Burris’s plight, made a statement that was quite different from that December 10 letter.
“Does [Blagojevich] have the power, under law, to make the appointment?” Feinstein wondered aloud. “The answer is yes. If you don’t seat Mr. Burris, it has ramifications for gubernatorial appointments all over America. Mr. Burris is a senior, experienced politician. He has been attorney general, he has been controller, and he is very well-respected. I am hopeful that this will be settled.”
As Democrats cracked on the Burris question, Republicans mostly watched. And smiled — to themselves. “More drama,” one wrote to me as the Feinstein news broke. Burris’s appearance was “brilliant stagecraft, if it was all on purpose,” the Republican continued. “He looked sad and cold, wrapped his coat around himself at one point. It was evocative of the 1960s, just in color — a black man being turned away.”
For much of the day, Republicans, who haven’t had much to enjoy lately, felt the satisfaction of watching a mess that was completely someone else’s. “It’s not our problem,” the Republican told me. “We would like a special election, but we have zero ability to make it happen.”