The Roland Burris circus took a ludicrous turn today as Harry Reid and Senate Democrats threw the fate of the former Illinois attorney general, who was appointed by disgraced Governor Rod Blagojevich to fill the unexpired term of President-elect Barack Obama last week, back to Illinois and the office of Secretary of State Jesse White.
It was White who refused to sign off on Burris, rejecting the paperwork on the appointment while making it clear he would not certify any candidate appointed by a governor who tried to to sell the Senate seat to the highest bidder. At the same time, White admitted — and most legal experts have agreed — that he has no statutory authority in the matter and that his signature (and the affixing of the state seal to the appointment document) was pro forma. Burris attorneys have sued White, saying he has no standing to deny Burris the seat. They are asking the court to direct the secretary of state to certify the appointment. Legal observers say that Burris has an excellent case.
That may be so. But yesterday, when Mr. Burris dramatically tried to take his seat in the Senate, he was rebuffed by Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erikson, who told him that his paperwork was out of order, lacking as it did both White’s signature and the Great Seal of Illinois. This set up the dramatic meeting today between Burris and Reid to try and find a way out of this political quagmire, which was making the Democrats look ridiculous for having made a big show of denying Burris his seat only to retreat when the legal and political winds began to blow against them.
Reid, citing a 120-year-old Senate rule that required the signatures of both the governor and secretary of state on any appointment, lobbed the ball back into Jesse White’s court — a play that made the wizened old pol (and one of the most powerful Democrats in Illinois) get his back up and charge “Foul!”
“What the senate did to Roland Burris yesterday…they played a little bit of a game with him,” he [White] said.
The host asked him if he thought Reid had made him a “fall guy.”
“You’re absolutely correct,” he said. “It’s ugly.”
“I think the world of Roland Burris,” he said. “We’re the best of friends.”
“Roland Burris is going to be seated,” he predicted, saying he hopes Burris becomes the next senator from Illinois.
In effect, White is saying “No, thank you” to Harry Reid and telling him to fix his own darn messes.
Indeed, Reid and the Democratic leadership have been backtracking furiously, trying not to trip over their own feet after having released what sounded like a definitive, almost Shermanesque statement even before Burris had been announced as Blagojevich’s choice:
This is not about Mr. Burris; it is about the integrity of a governor accused of attempting to sell this United States Senate seat,” the statement read. “Anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus.