Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Harry Reid's folly

By DeWayne Wickham

You have to wonder if the Senate Democrats that Harry Reid herded to the edge of a political cliff will follow him in leaping off that precipice.

Reid, the leader of the U.S. Senate’s Democratic majority, is trying mightily to keep Roland Burris from assuming the Senate seat he was appointed to by embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. His selection of Burris, a former attorney general and the first black to win statewide election in the Prairie State, may be a cynical act. But it baits a trap that Reid has fallen into.

“We say this without prejudice toward Roland Burris’s ability, and we respect his years of public service. But this is not about Burris; it is about the integrity of a governor accused of attempting to sell this United States Senate seat. Under these circumstances, 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,” Reid said in a statement.

But Blagojevich, who has neither been convicted of a crime nor impeached, had the legal right to appoint Burris. And Senate Democrats have no constitutional authority to reject Burris because of the legal problems that now engulf Blagojevich, who federal prosecutors accuse of political corruption, including allegedly scheming to personally benefit from naming someone to replace Obama.

As far as we know, Burris was not a party to that scandalous talk, which was captured on wiretaps by federal prosecutors. In fact, Reid said Sunday on Meet the Press, “I don’t know a thing wrong with Burris.” Later he added: “I think that everyone I’ve talked to says that Burris is a good guy.”

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Reid called Blagojevich shortly before his arrest and urged the governor not to appoint Illinois Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Danny Davis, or state Senate president Emil Jones — all of them black. Instead, he wanted Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan or Tammy Duckworth, the state’s chief of Veterans Affairs, named to the post. Neither woman is black.

Reid denies this account of his conversation with Blagojevich. Among others, Reid cited his support of the appointment of black Nevada attorney Johnnie Rawlinson to a federal judgeship as proof that he’s not a closet racist.

Ironically, President Clinton nominated Rawlinson to the federal bench while he was the target of a federal investigation that resulted in the House approving three articles of impeachment against him. Had Republicans adopted Reid’s argument that the Senate can stop a duly elected official from carrying out his authorized duties, they could have refused to approve Rawlinson’s nomination.

As it stands now, Reid has gotten Senate Democrats to band together in opposing Burris. Their sheep-like allegiance to the Senate majority leader could be a gift to Republicans, hurting Democrats in the next election cycle.Reid and his followers are wrong to believe that what they are doing to Burris won’t produce a black backlash. It will. They hope that Obama’s support of their position will give them cover. It won’t.

No matter his motivation, Reid’s opposition to Burris will leave the Senate a lily-white body as this nation enters the new era in American politics that was ushered in by Obama’s election as this nation’s first black president.

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