In one of the most dramatic moments in Senate history, the Democrats refused to let Roland Burris enter the Senate chamber today. Democrats do not want to recognize an appointment from Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is accused of trying to sell the seat to replace President-elect Barack Obama. Burris attempted to be sworn in on the first day of the 111th Congress, but was told by the Secretary of the Senate that his credentials “were not in order.”
Nancy Erickson, the Senate secretary, initially cited the absence of the signature of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White as the reason for rejecting the appointment. Burris is trying to get the Illinois Supreme Court to order White to sign the form. White has no authority to refuse his signature and is claiming the right to unilaterally block an appointment because he simply does not like or is suspicious of the appointing governor. No one has claimed that Burris bought this seat and indeed he would have been on the list of likely candidates for any governor.
It is clear that White’s actions are not true reason for extraordinary action. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others stated their intention to block the appointment based on the governor’s scandal. Indeed, Reid said that, if his credentials are valid, the Senate would “proceed in a manner that is respectful to Mr. Burris, while ensuring that there is not a cloud of doubt over the appointment.”
To make matters worse, there is a rumor that Burris is being asked to guarantee that, if he is sworn in, he will not run in 2010. Given the fact that the democrats have no legal basis to deny him this appointment, such a proposal would magnify the gross abuse of power.
For Democrats who have complained about George Bush’s abusive use of authority, this is a terrible way to begin their control of both the Congress and the White House. Just as the Bush Administration argued that the President can torture because he says he can, the Democrats are claiming the right to bar any member because they can. It would create a precedent that they will regret and only fuels GOP efforts to block Al Franken. At least the GOP can cite an election controversy, the Democrats have no legal claim against this appointment.
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