Well, the Democrats, both in Illinois and DC, have screwed this one up to a fare-thee-well. They’ve been outmaneuvered by perhaps the least popular politician in the country (that would be Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich), and there isn’t a damn thing they can do about it. They now find themselves in an impossible situation with no good options. A fine way to start out the new era of change that has come to America.
How did they get themselves here? Let us count the ways.
- As soon as Blago was arrested, there was a flurry of activity around the eminently sensible idea of changing Illinois law to provide for a special election instead of a gubernatorial appointment to fill Obama’s Senate seat. But that effort sputtered out for the most pathetic of reasons.
State lawmakers had considered that option, but Democrats, who control the House and the Senate, had dropped the idea. An election, which Democrats complained was too expensive, would mean Republicans would have an opportunity to win the seat.
“Too expensive”? Please. Democracy costs money — just get over it. The real reason the Dems didn’t change the law is almost certainly because it would give the GOP a shot at claiming the seat. And that is a totally unacceptable reason for their course of action. Deciding not to change a bad law, under circumstances where leaving the law in effect was almost guaranteed to lead to this very catastrophe, is the height of irresponsibility. Heckuva job, dickheads.
- Meanwhile, in Washington, Harry Reid & Co. have been piously proclaiming that they might refuse to allow anyone Blago names to take office. On Dec. 10, Reid wrote a letter (also signed by all the other Democrats) to Blago which stated:
Please understand that should you decide to ignore the request of the Senate Democratic Caucus and make an appointment we would be forced to exercise our Constitutional authority under Article I, Section 5, to determine whether such a person should be seated.
[A]nyone 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.
Problem is, there seems to be a consensus among legal experts forming around the idea that, in fact, the Senate cannot refuse to allow Burris to take office. The constitutional authority to which Reid refers, Art. I, s. 5, reads:
Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members….
Well, there’s no “election” or “return” at issue here, so those two are out. And the Supreme Court has already held that “in judging the qualifications of its members, Congress is limited to the standing qualifications prescribed in the Constitution” — that is, age, residency, and citizenship. So there seems to be no way around the conclusion that Mr. Burris (1) is “qualified” to be a Senator, and (2) has been duly appointed to that seat, in accordance with state law, as permitted under the 17th Amendment. If there’s a way around this, I sure don’t see it.
- And so, the Illinois Democrats by their inaction have invited Blago to do exactly what he did (their cries of rage in light of Blago’s action ring particularly hollow, given their failure to prevent what could easily have been prevented), and the DC Dems have threatened to stop it, even though they probably can’t, which will make them look incredibly ineffectual. Great. Now, maybe what will happen is that Burris will be sworn in as a Senator, but will not be admitted to the Democratic caucus. Oh, that’ll look terrific: the one black guy in the entire Senate — who everyone agrees has not himself done anything wrong — has to sit by himself in the corner. And beyond the incredibly embarrassing appearance of it, that would also not be fair to the people of Illinois, who are not at fault here and who deserve two fully-functioning Senators.
Let’s just face it. Blago won this round — he got to fill the seat, and he got to give the finger to all of his detractors in the process. The Democrats should take their lumps and move on. Burris will probably be a perfectly respectable Senator, and he’ll either retire in two years (he is 71 years old), or he’ll have to defend his seat in what will no doubt be a vigorously contested primary and general election.