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Late word: Burris is in, Reid's gone quiet and Blago's still there

January 12, 2009 |  7:04 pm

Illinois' legally embattled Democrat Governor Rod Blagojevich names former state attorney general Roland Burris to fill the Senate seat of president-elect Barack Obama

Catching up: Seeking to end an embarrassing episode, Democratic leaders of the U.S. Senate sent word to the world today that Roland Burris, a 71-year-old African American, would be sworn in later this week to replace the 47-year-old president-elect, Barack Obama. (See video below.)

The move, done with no cameras present to provide lasting video evidence of the political debacle for Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Illinois' other senator, Dick Durbin, should get the political mess out of the way in time for Obama's inauguration next Tuesday, as his aides had suggested.

Even in another time zone, the cloistered cackling of Illinois Gov. Rod "Bleeping" Blagojevich could be heard. It was his arrest on corruption charges and release on bail in early December that prompted Reid to get 49 other Senate Democrats to sign a letter and announce how that body would never accept any appointee of a tainted governor like fellow Democrat Blagojevich. And a vacationing Obama agreed with Reid.

Blago, who played hardball in pre-school, bided his time and then presented Reid with a holiday present, the nomination of an African American Democratic loyalist, no shining star but someone who's paid his party dues as state attorney general and comptroller.

And someone it would be virtually impossible to prevent from becoming the Senate's only black member, especially once Blago allies leaked word that Reid had opposed naming three other African American candidates as too weak in a wiretapped phone call with the governor just before his arrest.

And especially since Democrats so desperately wanted to avoid a special statewide election that they initially called for before realizing, oops, in this corruption climate, even a Republican might win an Illinois election.

Then Blago got the black caucus to endorse Burris, who was barred from taking his seat last week and led TV cameras on a minutely-documented sad Capitol Hill trek just trying to get in. How disappointing coming just before the Martin Luther King Jr holiday. Reid and Durbin created a face-saving canard over the missing signature of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. But even without the signature, the handwriting was on the wall.

As you'll see in the video here, the soft-spoken Burris, who knows better than to spout public words he might have to take back, was calm and gracious and humble and talking about learning from Senate veterans like Reid. Though the obvious lesson this time was the other way around.

Burris -- or more likely someone else -- will have to run in an election next year. By then, the embarrassing tumult will have died down and, golly gee, some clean replacement Democrat like Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan or Obama White House aide Valerie Jarrett could challenge Burris, if he was unwise enough to resist being pushed out.

Burris has never lost to a Republican, but he's lost often in Democratic primaries. Burris today said he hadn't decided about a 2010 run. Yeh, right. Of course, it would be absolutely ridiculous to suggest that Burris has already agreed to step aside next year in return for his long-coveted two years in the big-time. That would be a kind of political quid pro quo that's out of the question, especially in Illinois Democratic politics.

Oh, and Democrat Blagojevich is still sitting at the governor's desk. With his guy in Obama's seat. And his close friend, Rahm Emanuel, as White House chief of staff starting next week. Other than that, Blago lost everything in this struggle.

-- Andrew  Malcolm

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Photo credit: Tannen Maury / EPA (Gov. Blagojevich names Burris to the Senate).

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