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My Beef With Burris

My Beef With Burris

By Ruth Marcus - January 15, 2009

WASHINGTON -- Get out the chisel and add another line on his already grand mausoleum, right above "first African-American exchange student to Hamburg University in Germany from Southern Illinois University in 1959." Roland Burris is now going to be a senator.

I'm resigned to that fact. It was predictable the moment Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., slapped down the race card at the news conference announcing Burris' appointment. There's one thing you can count on in the U.S. Senate -- certainly among Democrats there: Confronted with insinuations of racism, this bunch of white guys will fold faster than Rod Blagojevich can rake in campaign contributions from state contractors.

If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can think more than one chess move ahead, he certainly didn't demonstrate it on this one. He got all his Democratic colleagues to sign a letter to Blagojevich "to insist that you step down as governor of Illinois and under no circumstance make an appointment to fill the vacant Illinois Senate seat." Then he issued a pre-emptive statement, just before the Burris announcement, warning Blagojevich that his appointee, "as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus."

Until, of course, he is.

But my bigger beef is with Burris. Since his elevation from failed politician obscurity, the attitude of the soon-to-be junior senator from Illinois has been that the legal and ethical travails of Blagojevich have absolutely nothing to do with him. I don't buy that, but fine -- let's accept Burris' view. If he's so independent and disconnected from any indebtedness to Blagojevich, why doesn't he believe, along with President-elect Obama and every single one of his new colleagues, that Blagojevich should resign in the wake of his arrest on grounds of trying to sell Obama's Senate seat and his impeachment by the Illinois House?

"Well, that is not really my purview to state," Burris told MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski the other day. "He stated he's not going to resign, so therefore my comment when everybody's calling for him to resign, he's not done that. And if he -- remember now, you're innocent until you're proven guilty in our society. And based on that, I think he's making his decision based on what leverage he thinks he may have. But him and his problems are in no way imputed to me."

Brzezinski, God bless her, didn't let up.

Brzezinski: "But I am wondering what your opinion is in terms of what's best for voters, for constituents? Would it be better for the state if he resigns?"

Burris: "Well, in terms of all of the consternation, I am not -- as I said, that's his choice."

Well if that isn't a profile in courage. The governor is on tape, for goodness' sake, talking about how he could use the Senate seat as leverage to get a cushy job, a corporate board seat for his wife, an ambassadorship, or campaign cash, "upfront, maybe." Presuming innocence in a criminal court doesn't require putting on blinders outside it. As Obama put it, "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."

So Roland Burris, who represents the people of Illinois, after all, believes that it is "not really my purview" to say if he thinks Blagojevich should resign? Just one more bit of evidence that he has no business being a senator. Whether or not it's in my purview to say so.

Copyright 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

Ruth Marcus

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