2008 Politics Goes Out With a Bang!

By Al Giordano

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So much for the famously slow news days between xmas and the New Year. Politics in 2008 is going out with a bang, not a whimper.

The political world is swirling today with reports from Chicago that scandal-ridden Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich will call a 2 p.m. CT press conference to appoint former state attorney general Roland Burris, 71, to the US Senate seat vacated by President-Elect Barack Obama.

You may not know Burris, but Illinois does. According to NBC Chicago:

Former bank examiner for the Comptroller of the Currency. Continental Illinois National Bank, where he rose from tax accountant to vice president. Director of the Illinois Department of General Services in 1973. Took over as national executive director and chief operating officer for Operation PUSH in 1977. Elected comptroller in 1978, becoming the first black elected to statewide constitutional office in Illinois. Re-elected in 1982 and 1986. Elected attorney general in 1990...

During an unsuccessful bid to become Illinois governor, Burris sold himself as an experienced businessman ready to take over the Illinois "corporation." He touted his 12 years as comptroller and four as Illinois attorney general as appropriate training for the top spot. Burris pledged to devote 51 percent of all new revenue to school funding; to cut back on state spending; to create a "rainy day" fund to provide for state fiscal crises; to continue building an airport at Peotone; and to promote high-speed rail. He supported limiting campaign contributions but only if they're accompanied by spending limits.

He supports abortion rights and a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation. He wants to increase early childhood education.

In other circumstances, Burris would be a very good pick and probably an excellent senator. DKos blogger Bob Johnson makes the case for Burris, here. But he's got a rough ride ahead of him, as Blagojevich's own defense attorney noted last week when speculating that his client, the embattled governor, would not likely appoint to fill the senate vacancy, reports Amy Walter of the National Journal's Political Hotline:

At a 12/17 presser Genson's response to the question of whether Blagojevich would appoint a successor, was "No. ... [Senate Maj. Leader] Harry Reid said that they're not going to accept anybody he picks. Why would he do that?" And, in 12/18 interview with MSNBC's Tamron Hall, he said that "My understanding is he's not going to appoint anyone to the seat"

This appointment will put serious pressure on Democrats in the Senate who have said that they would not seat any appointment made by the embattled Governor. At the same time, they would also like to come into the first weeks of the new session with as many Democratic lawmakers possible.

As Field Hand J.P. Massar notes, it's not crystal clear that the US Senate has the legal standing to reject the appointment, based on case law dating back to US Rep. Adam Clayton Powell from New York (although, once sworn in, the Senate can expel any senator by a two-thirds vote, which is to say about 41 Republicans plus about 26 Democrats).

I can see both sides of this: On the one hand, Burris, 71, tarnishes his apparently spotless and honorable political career if he accepts the taint of Blago's nomination. On the other hand, he's 71: what has he personally got to lose? The gamble that circumstances might end him up as a US Senator might have the odds against him, but they're not insurmountable odds.

The real problem is for Obama, the Democratic Party and particularly the Democrats in the US Senate, and how Republicans will surely use any successful seating of Burris to portray the entire party "brand" as akin to the Illinois governor's alleged corruption. Blagojevich has thus tossed the hot potato into the laps of others (buying for himself a little bit of breathing room) now that the epicenter of the Illinois government scandal will shift from Chicago to Washington with all eyes on how the Senate responds.

There is also the delicate question of race. Obama's resignation last month from the Senate left the upper house without a sole African-American senator. This could get complicated as a political matter with some (or all?) other senators seeking to deny him the post, a possible court battle over that, and Blagovich - perhaps playing to the demographics of a future Chicago jury? - trying to position himself as an advocate for a possible senator whose only taint is Blagojevich himself.

It's so complicated - nobody can say with authority that Burris won't become senator or that he will become senator - and although my instincts are that this is going to end badly for Burris and others, I can't offer an immediate prediction as to how I think this will turn out. If and when I can, you'll be the first to know.

Never a dull moment 'round here. Happy New Year, Field Hands!

Update: Here we go. Illinois state Senate President Emil Jones calls Burris "a great choice."

Update II: The plot thickens. Burris is a registered lobbyist. Also, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is saying he won't certify Burris as senator, which means he might not even get as far as Washington. The odds just got much steeper for Burris, because the entire gambit is based on shifting the action to DC. Color me leaning more toward projecting that there won't be any Senator Burris.

Update III: Nate Silver weighs in from Chicago, also with nuance:

The Capitol Fax Blog has a couple of additional details. Firstly, they're reporting that Illinois' Secretary of State Jesse White will refuse to certify the appointment. I'm not sure what, if any, constitutional authority White has to do that.

Secondly, although Burris has criticized Blagojevich in recent weeks, he's also contributed $11K to his campaign fund, and his consulting firm has done a lot of business with the state during Blago's term. Neither of those things are damning in and of themselves, of course, but they give the Republicans some ammunition.

One of Reid's problems, by the way, is that it seems plausible that some Republicans would vote against expulsion, perhaps by suggesting that to expel Burris would be an abuse of their Constitutional authority. Their real motivation, of course, might be to give the Blagojevich story legs heading into 2010. 


This is going to be ... awkward. As we explained before, it's not at all clear that the Senate has the constitutional authority to refuse to seat an appointed senator. Instead, they might have to seat Burris and then immediately expel him. And I'm not sure that expulsion, which requires a two-thirds majority, is any kind of slam dunk. Burris has a reputation for being above-board, was the first African-American ever to be elected (to statewide office) in Illinois, and actually ran against Blagojevich in 2002. He also has the advantage of not actually having held office in Illinois since 1995, which may explain why he's clean. So the third surprise here is that Blago made a fairly astute choice. If he wanted to pick someone who maximized his chances of having the appointment succeed, Burris would be close to the top of that list. 

Update IV: Oh. My. God. US Rep. Bobby Rush just interrupted the Burris appointment press conference to endorse the appointment, citing that Illinois has had two African-American US senators in recent years. "We need to have not just one African-American in the US Senate. We need to have many African-Americans in the US Senate... I ask you not to hang or lynch the appointee as you castigate the appointer... Separate the appointee from the appointer...." Boom! That's a game changer. What a year!

Update V: Illinois Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn just held a live press conference saying that Blagojevich is "not fit" to make an appointment to the US Senate and cheering Secretary of State Jesse White's announcement that he won't certify the Burris appointment. For sheer entertainment value and adrenaline rush, this is like a championship sporting event!

Update VI: Speaking of 2008 going out with a bang... Many have worried aloud in the comments section that we might not get to our $10,000 year-end fundraising goal by the end of the year. But look! With 38 hours to go the donations have begun coming in a bit faster and we're now just $1,034.47 from our goal. That means we just have to raise $27 an hour to meet it on time. We've done that before, because you've always come through. You can see that on the bar graph in the the upper right corner of your screen that Latin America and the United States (sans Alaska) is now blue and we're close to sweeping the continent. Please make this New Year's as celebratory as we want it to be by donating to The Fund for Authentic Journalism today. (And thanks, everyone, who has given so far.) Looks like an exciting and informative year ahead, too!

Update VII: A statement, hot off the presses, from President-elect Obama:

"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 Governor Blagojevich has chosen to ignore it.  I believe the best resolution would be for the Governor to resign his office and allow a lawful and appropriate process of succession to take place.  While Governor Blagojevich is entitled to his day in court, the people of Illinois are entitled to a functioning government and major decisions free of taint and controversy," said President-elect Obama. 



Proud of Bobby...

I could not be prouder of Bobby Rush for getting up there to defend Roland Burris's qualifications for being the next U.S. Senator from Illinois.  He is ABSOLUTELY right that Burris should not be "lynched" because of Blago's misdeeds.  He just threw down the gauntlet and Barack better steer clear.  He cannot win this fight. 

I expect that Rush and Burris will now marshall grassroots support.  I would expect a "Seat Burris" campaign within the next couple of days to emerge.  This is going to be a fight.  The spineless National Democrats DESERVE this!

I don't see what is so amusing about this Al

-The Democratic party in IL could be destroyed by the shenanigans that happened today


-injecting the race card?? are you saying that there should be an AA in the senate because they are AA?...that is reverse racism and is not acceptable. What a shamful display by Bobby Rush.


-it's not all plays and games...the coming Obama administration faces mountains of challenges, IL needs full representation , and they can't afford a 50 mill$ special election....


I am not amused

say what you will about Blagojevich

He may be crazy, but he's crazy like a fox.

@ Palgirl

Palgirl - I understand your point: You believe that today's events will hurt the Democrats' chance to keep that senate seat in 2010. I don't think so because I think Burris - if his appointment goes through (which is not definite) and if he did run for election in 2010 - would face a primary and would lose it, and the person that beat him (Schakowsky, Jackson, whomever) would come out of it even stronger in the general election campaign. 

And it is true that I have a perverse fascination with the hardball of political action, and that not everybody shares that. I don't insist that anybody should. But I think a lot of folks that don't share that intense level of interest still feel they benefit from my observations. In this case, it's that Bobby Rush "changed the game" with a single statement. And he raised an issue that I think is legitimate: Should the Senate expel its only African-American based on guilt-by-association? There are racial justice issues in that dispute. Pointing out the obvious is not "playing the race card" (the phrase that is always used to try and shut down any open discussion of racial justice in America).

I'm not sure what you're referring to by "special election" because this dispute is about an appointment and there will be an election for that seat in 2010 with or without an appointment to it.

That said, your observations are always welcome here, even if we don't see eye to eye.

@ Allen

Allen - Yeah, I think he inadvertently hurt his insanity defense today!

Bobby Rush?

Does Bobby Rush really want Burris to have that seat? Because he just took a process that was already frought with controversy, poured some gasoline and lit a match. Burris had a difficult road already by virtue of being appointed by Blago, Rush just made it harder.


Utter Hypocrisy by so called Progressives...

I agree 100% with a commenter on Kos called eclecticbrotha... So-called progressives need to check themselves before they WRECK themselves....


1.) I seem to recall there have been numerous discussions in state and national media aby progressives bout wanting to replace Obama with an African American because he is only the 4th AA senator in history. Valerie Jarrett, Emil Jones and Jesse Jr. have been bandied about partly because of this.

2.) Blago pulls a shrewd move and appoints one of the most respected black politicians in Illinois history and every so-called progressive immediately demands he be denied without hardly any consideration of Burris' stellar record on progressive issues.

3.) In response to the attacks on Burris in the media simply for accepting the appointment, Bobby Rush asks people not to lynch Burris in an attempt to punish Blago and suddenly its "playing the race card?" Why, because the black guy used the word "lynch" in a sentence?

My conclusion? Progressives are such fucking hypocrites and incidents like this prove it.

Like I said. Too fuckin' funny.

I see this differently

the "next generation' - Jesse Jackson Jr.-got caught with his pants down. He was IT.

You might not like Rush and what he said - he's MY Congressman, and I've NEVER voted for him in the Democratic Primary - but, I understand what he's attempting to do. Might not be pretty, but that Irish gang was trying to muscle in, and they're making a stand.


 I see this through local eyes. Black folks haven't been feeling this entire process. The word on the street is that Blago was arrested the day that he was supposed to appoint Jesse Jackson, Jr. Sorry if the Black folk wear the tinfoil hat and believe it. It rubs folks the wrong way.

Lisa Madigan - Irish - got a job she wasn't remotely qualified because of her Daddy.

Michael Madigan - Irish - sensible Black folk hate his racist ass with a passion.

Pat Quinn - don't trust him because he's Irish too.

So, Black folk are saying - you wanted clean - Ain't no Negro cleaner than Roland Burris.

Of course, Black folk have serious problems with Blago's arrest....they wanna know....'what did he do?'

You have a hard time convincing Black folk who live under King Richard Daley II, that Blago is such a horrible guy.

Way OT

Way off topic, I know (it won't hurt my feelings if you don't publish it here), but will you be posting on the other story that's making 2008 politics go out (literally) with a bang:  the Hamas - Israel dustup is a giant, murderous mess, and I'd love to read your thoughts on its implications for President Obama.

That said, keep up the good work in 2009!

NY has nothing on IL! Wowie

So much for year-end doldrums, eh? This is political theater at its finest - and yes, I do share that perverse enjoyment of the political battleground.

Not knowing all the constitutional questions involved, I don't see how tthe appointment can be effectively blocked - tactically, a winning move by Bobby Rush.

As for the "race card" - sadly, it's become as overused as "television superstar." Take only milliseconds to get a card dealt on the blogosphere these days.

Let me add this: the one thing that shocks me (and I claim to be well-informed, ha!) was the number of black Senators in U.S. history - I sort of knew it, but I'll admit I had to read and re-read that little number. Five in total - two Reconstruction and three since Edward Brooke in 19-freaking-67. Says a lot.

Bobby Rush statement

The comment from Bobby Rush is especially interesting in light of the very tough campaign for Congress that Obama ran against him a few years ago -- in which Obama lost. Wouldn't surprise me in the least if Rush purposefully and emotionally got out early in front of the anticipated Obama statement backing Congressional Dem leadership opposition to any Blago appointment. Those two guys have history; that was an ugly campaign between them. I could be wrong, but that's what immediately came to mind when I read Rush's statement.

Welcome to the Machine


I have a family history in Chicago, a long way back, way before I was a twinkle in anyone's eye, if I even am now, and the Irish card you just played rings true to me. Looking at this move from a DC perspective reads one way, but when you bring it back to the hoods of Chicago, and its long history of ethnic machine politics, it seems you are hitting a note that rings true more than a little.

Daley, in my opinion, is among the last of the big city machine mayors, if not the last, and his ethnic clan is clearly Irish.

I see Blago's move more calculated to mess with the Chicago political scene -- in this case messing with Daley's machine somehow, maybe for leverage or just out of spite.

The fact that it plays in DC is all the better for him, in his mind. But all politics is local. He's facing federal charges, but he also wants to show he can create a lot of hearburn for the local powers that be if they don't help back the feds off his case. 

The danger here to Obama is not from Blago directly, but from those Blago tweaks, who might then try to lean on Obama for an assist. I think Obama is smarter than to fall into that trap, but the trap, in my mind, is being set nonetheless.

Chicago poltics is steeped in ethnic history, but at its core, it's a cesspool where color matters less than power. But when the lights come on, the rats always scamper to their respective corners. In the case of Daley's machine, it's likely to be the Irish corner, no doubt. Though still powerful, it is not the only corner to be found in Chicago.


Good for Obama for not staying out of this

No appointee by Blago should be accepted..I don't care what color he is

If you support Burris, you're dissing Obama...

After his arrest on federal corruption charges, Blagojevich faced a decision:  Would he do the honorable thing and resign, in order to have the time to organize his defense against the most serious charges of corruption that any sitting governor has faced in decades in the U.S.? Or would he continue to act in an egomaniacal fashion and use his remaining, finite time in office to exploit the news media's fascination with rogue politicians who falsely claim to be acting for "the people"?  He's chosen the latter course.  By recruiting Roland Burris as his Senate choice, Blagojevich is also playing racial politics, having recruited another older black politician (who once called Obama "an educated fool") to embrace Burris's appointment.  This creates a political sideshow that will only benefit opponents of the president-elect.  Anyone who supports this appointment is simply pouring gasoline on the fire of Blagojevich's intention to disrupt the politics of his state and distract the media from the reality that he's lost the ability to govern.  Blago may also be doing this as part of a criminal defense strategy of confusing and dividing and thus contaminating the jury pool for his forthcoming criminal trial.  The reality is that Burris will not be seated by the U.S. Senate, so those who support him will only be doing favors for right-wing Republicans who are anxious to tarnish Obama any way it seems possible.  The new president needs the nation's undivided attention as he tackles a series of crises left to him by his incompetent predecessor, including saving the nation's economy, ending a war, and preventing the Middle East from being engulfed in a wider carnage that could seriously delay the world's economic recovery.  Ignoring all that, Blagojevich has lured Roland Burris into his media circus.  The rest of us shouldn't follow.

I don't understand the big deal here...

If this is a clean appointment -- no quid pro quo for Blago -- and Burris is, by all accounts, a clean politician, and at 71 may be a placeholder senator -- i.e., won't run for reelection in 2010 -- then what's the big deal about accepting him?

If the Democratic Party and all due diligence can ascertain that Blagojevich gained nothing from the appointment -- well, isn't that what we want?  What does he gain politically?  The act of having circumvented the forces against him by appointing someone squeaky clean who gives him nothing in return?  That doesn't exactly sound like a defeat to me.  All the nonsense about calling Reid's bluff and forcing him to accept an acceptable appointment without the risk and expense of a runoff election -- oh, please don't throw me in that briar patch!

The sooner an acceptable person takes that seat, the better it is for the Party and the next Congress.  Who appointed him makes no difference to me.  Yeah, the GOP will try and discredit him, but what else is new?

We've all turned into a bunch of drama queens, as far as I'm concerned.

Another local politics angle

I forgot to add that another impetus for this is the LOSS of Emil Jones as the President of the Illinois Senate. Jones has been very good to the Black community, fighting for it, cause we know how we are NOT served by Massa Michael Madigan, Speaker of the Illinois House. That adds another level to this political drama.

My "position"

Well, I can see in the comments that some commenters presume I support Burris' appointment and others think I oppose it, but a careful reading of my post above will reveal no position at all.

And Tribunus - It was Bobby Rush, not Burris, who called Obama an "educated fool" (back when Obama challenged him for Congress, they've made up since then and Rush supported his presidential campaign from the start). And nor do I think that it would be "dissing" Obama to have a different opinion than him on any single issue.

Frankly, not being from Illinois, I really don't think I have any standing at all in the matter, and believe that my opinion - even if I had one - shouldn't count (just as I find it annoying that people not from my native New York get their noses so out of joint over who will be the next senator from that state.) I've never lived in Illinois and consider it up to the public there.

I do think it's a great political theater, though, and thus an opportunity to peak behind the curtain and see how politics is really played. Like it or not, Bobby Rush made the political play of the day today! And I'm not one of those white folks that gets offended or think it's somehow reverse racism when black folks reference the terrible history of lynching. They've earned that right over many, many years. And in his essential point - there are zero African Americans in the senate - that's an absolutely legitimate discussion point for filling that vacancy, in my opinion.

My position is you can't seat him

And that's nothing against Roland Burris, I just don't want to hear from anyone Blago sent.  Reid and the national Democrats have already laid down their marker (renewed by P-E Obama today), and you'd think they would now need to follow through, if the Burris appointment gets that far.

On a more local level, I can't decide if Blago is just trying to tear down as much of the IL Democratic party and Obama administration as possible on his way out, or if he's deluded to the point where he thinks he has a shot at (a) surviving Fitzgerald, (b) winning an impeachment trial, and (c) somehow leverage support in the AA community to win both a primary fight, and then re-election in 2010.

With this maroon, it's hard to know for sure.

If Burris is rejected, the only out I see is for Lt. Gov. Quinn to appoint a placeholder (may I suggest Abner Mikva?), and let the contenders battle it out down the road in an open primary.  If Burris is seated, I think Blagojevich will have succeeded in frittering away what should have been another 20 years in the wilderness for statewide Republicans.

If this ends up dumped on the US Senate, I wonder if there will be a problem for the Senate Democrats trying to keep Burris out, while the House Democrats appear to be falling all over themselves to look the other way at Charlie Rangel's alleged transgressions?

It's like the Jerry Lewis telethon, folks

We're into the final hours, Jerry's becoming even more incoherent than usual, his necktie is undone and he's schvitzing like Liza Minnelli.  The count on the giant toteboard is closing in on the goal, we're only $760 from our goal, and what do I have to do, sing "You'll Never Walk Alone" to get you to reach into your wallets and throw a few more bucks in the can for the cause?  We can do it, folks!  Do it for Jerry!  Do it for all the reporters who need braces for their kids' teeth!  Do it for the server, think of the server groaning under the weight of all this web traffic!  If it can handle the pressure to make sure you get your fix of Authentic Journalism, can't you find some spare change in the sofa cushions and give give give until it hurts?

The cost to Obama of a state's political implosion

"...nor do I think that it would be 'dissing' Obama to have a different opinion than him on any single issue."  With all due respect, Al, that's not what I was saying.  Let me put it another way:  The Burris appointment is bait -- whoever swallows it is implicitly supporting the idea that Blagojevich can make an acceptable Senate appointment, which the Senate leadership and Obama have both rejected.  So, yes, that disrespects the president-elect's judgment.  And it lends credence to Blago's claim that he is still governing effectively. This evening Blago & Burris were the lead story on ABC World News Tonight, not the war in Gaza. Whoever takes a ride on the Burris bus -- or on any other gambit Blago tries in the weeks ahead -- is aiding this absurd political figure's obvious intent to make money out of his own scandal:  the bigger the circus, the more money for network interviews, a book contract, etc.  He's scavenging for enablers.  The only way to minimize the damage he may do is to shun him, something that Obama opted for some time ago.  Anyway you look at it, it doesn't help Obama if his home state is imploding politically over the issue of his empty Senate seat, just as he's leaving for Washington.

All Right Already!

I kicked in some doughlo (Brooklyn circa 84) for the Best Blog Evah!



50 dollars contributed to the fund

Hi Al,

I've enjoyed reading your work at the field all throughout the entire primary process. As one of the thousands upon thousands of college kids that supported Obama throughout the election, I hope my little contribution helps a little bit.

With regards to Roland Burris, I believe Nate made some good points about a possible effect in 2010, not even for the IL seat, but for some of the marginal Congressional seats. We saw how corruption for the Republicans in 2006 was able to cast a spell upon even the many that were not involved.

If Burris is accepted, and Blago goes down sometime soon after, all it would take is one more scandal to allow the Republicans to try and cast a shadow upon Obama and the Democrats. From a purely political standpoint, wouldn't it be better for the next Democratic governor of IL to appoint Burris as well? Burris and the Dems are then freed of any percieved manufactured political wrongdoing.

I wonder what Rahm is doing behind the scenes...

Anyway, Al, thanks for all of the hardwork you put into this site and I look forward to reading you in the new year.

Of course Roland Burris is clean

He hasn't held public office since 1995.  That's more than 13 years! It's difficult to vet a man, once who's been out of the public spotlight for so long, in just a day.  What has already cropped up is that he is currently a registered lobbyist, he and his firm have donated over $14k to Blago's past campaigns, and his firm has state contracts.  Of course none of that by itself is incriminating, but everything must be viewed with skeptical eyes given the special circumstances that Illinois politics is in.

Then again none of this will really matter because if Burris runs in 2010, he won't get past the primary.  He isn't a well-known or strong leader and he would most likely split whatever base he has with a more prominent African-American candidate, like Jesse Jackson, Jr.  As pointed out in this dkos diary, this situation might actually be analogous to the appointment of Eugene Sawyer to mayor of Chicago.


Burris is seated as a Senator, but denied admission to the Democratic Caucus. This defangs any attempts by the Republicans to use him to discredit the brand.


Democrat for US Senate (Wisconsin 2012)

Let Burris Fill Seat

Thanks for the great writeup with chrono updates!

Couple of points to think about 1) Does Fitz really have a solid case against Blago? He's asking for 3 month investigative extension.  Let Fitz proceed, but Blago is still the governor within his rights to appoint Burris.  IMO, Obama looks like he jumped the gun on this (as did Reid) and should back off as this will take them down in circus-setting.  Blago has outmanuevered them for now.

Obama has bigger jobs to do (and public will forget this after inaugeration).  Obama's continued involvement in this will be a regressive mire that does him no good. 

Now Reid - What an embarrassment. If he follows up on his threat to not seat Burris (in Senate or in Dem Caucus?) it will be a disaster. Not even within his Constitutional authority on senate seating issue; On dem caucus seating - what nonsense to not include Burris but include Leiberman.

Anyway, Reid sure has a knack for standing up to Democrats, not so much to Republicans (and yes, I include Leiberman in this category) on more important items (war, FISA, etc).  





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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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