When it comes to legislative bodies, the first rule is always: Don’t just do something, stand there.
This is what the U.S. Senate has decided to do about Roland Burris. Burris says he is the junior senator from Illinois, but only one man has, in effect, voted for him, and that is the governor of Illinois, who has been charged with trying to sell the seat to the highest bidder.
Because the media are either at your feet or at your throat in this country, Burris, who once was portrayed as an opportunistic buffoon, is now being portrayed as a sterling and selfless public servant who is beyond reproach.
And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had nothing but praise for him Wednesday.
After spending just 45 minutes with Burris, Reid decided that Burris “is very engaging, an extremely nice man and presents himself well.”
Reid didn’t say that Burris is “clean,” but he might as well have.
Patronizing Burris is not the same thing as making Burris a member of the club, however. Reid is still dragging his feet on that.
First, the Illinois secretary of state must sign a document certifying Burris as a senator, Reid said, and everybody has to wait to see what the Illinois Supreme Court has to say about that.
Next, Burris is scheduled to testify under oath Thursday before an Illinois House panel looking into whether the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, should be impeached.
The purpose of this is ostensibly to find out whether Burris cut a deal with Blagojevich for the job. But while Blagojevich may be loony — Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley called him “cuckoo” last year — Burris is certainly not loony enough to make a deal with a guy who had already been arrested for trying to make deals.
Federal prosecutors have bugged and wiretapped Blagojevich so much, they probably have a transmitter hidden under his hair that he doesn’t even know about.
But Burris is going to have to swear that he is not a crook and then get the proper documents signed, and then the Senate is going to seat him, right?
Nope. Dick Durbin, the senior senator from Illinois, who appeared with Reid in a press conference Wednesday, said that while he respects Burris and is on a “first-name basis” with him (though one wonders if there is anybody a U.S. senator is not on a first-name basis with), Durbin believes the matter should then go to the Senate Rules Committee.
So if the Senate Rules Committee approves Burris, will Burris be seated then?
Well, no. According to Reid, the whole Senate will then have to vote on the matter.
That vote could come quickly. Or maybe not. Maybe if the Senate drags things out long enough, Blagojevich will be impeached and removed from office. That way the lieutenant governor of Illinois would take over and he could make his own appointment to the Senate. He could name Burris or he could name somebody else.
One essential point is being lost in all this fog, however: Blagojevich should never have named anybody to the Senate seat after his arrest, and Roland Burris never should have accepted the appointment.
Burris is not a crook, but he is a willing accomplice in a tainted process.
Just a little over a week ago, Barack Obama put it well: “Roland Burris is a good man and a fine public servant, but the Senate Democrats made it clear weeks ago that they cannot accept an appointment made by a governor who is accused of selling this very Senate seat. I agree with their decision, and it is extremely disappointing that Gov. Blagojevich has chosen to ignore it.”
Wednesday, however, Obama said Burris’ appointment or nonappointment “is a Senate matter” but that “if he gets seated,” then Obama is “going to work” with him.
So the ball is back in the Senate’s court. But balls can sometimes bounce slowly there.
“Why do we do the things the way we do?” Reid said Wednesday. “Because e’re the Senate.”