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Republicans Should Support Burris and Urge Senate to Seat Him

By Betsy NewmarkHigh School History and Government Teacher/Blogger

When Roland Burris shows up at the Senate this week asking or demanding to be seated, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already gone on record saying that Democrats will refuse to seat him. There will need to be a vote on the question and the Republicans, although they don't have the power to determine what happens, will have to choose whether to support Reid or vote to seat Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's choice for the seat. They should vote to seat him. In this case, the right choice and the politically astute choice are the same.

[caption id="attachment_4938" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich stands by as his choice to fill President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat, former Ill. Attorney General Roland Burris addresses the media on Dec. 30, 2008 (AP)"][/caption]

Whether the Senate has the power to refuse to seat a senator who has been duly appointed by the sitting governor of a state is being debated by lawyers across the ideological spectrum. Akhil Reed Amar and Josh Chafetzargue that the Senate is well within its Constitutional powers to refuse to seat the nominee of a process tainted by the accused corruption of Rod Blagojevich.

In this case, the right choice and the politically astute choice are the same.
Eugene Volokhand Michael Baronedisagree. The ruling in Powell v. McCormackseems pretty clear, but I'm not a lawyer. In that case the Supreme Court established that the only criteria the House could use to refuse to seat a duly elected Representative were the criteria in the Constitution. There seems no reason to think that an appointment to the Senate would be substantively or constitutionally different than an election.

Brian Kaltargues that the Senate can't refuse to seat him without holding hearings to decide if the process which led to his selection was indeed corrupt enough to justify their refusal to seat him. And it does seem that the Senate Democrats will set up some sort of committee hearing. Their plan is to delayhis seating in a hearing long enough for the Illinois legislature to rush through an impeachment and trial to convict Blagojevich and eject him from office. Then the Lieutenant Governor could appoint someone untainted and the Senate could seat that person. Given that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is already reluctant to share the transcripts of his wiretaps with the Illinois legislature, we can just imagine the delay involved when Senate trys to get information to determine whether or not Burris was involved with any of the Blagojevich shenanigans in selling the seat. Controlling the Senate as they do, the Democrats could drag out that committee hearing as long as they wanted. Burris would be forced to appeal to the federal courts to force the Senate to apply the Powell v. McCormackprecedent. However long that takes, it would give the Illinois legislature the time it needs to rush through their impeachment and trial proceedings.

Whatever happens, it is clear that the whole procedure is a mess. But it is a Democratic mess and the Republicans can just step out of the way. As Matt Lewisargues, the Republicans can stand on conservative principles and say that they are, reluctantly, supporting Supreme Court precedent and the rule of law. They can talk about how Illinois could have and should have avoided the whole meshugasby instituting a special election as soon as the news of Blagojevich's attempt to sell the seat emerged. In the first hours after the story broke there were several Democrats who called for a special election. It's clear to everyone that the only reason they didn't do that was their fear that a Republican might possibly, in overwhelmingly Democratic Illinois, be able to win in the midst of all the disgust over the Democratic sleaze that has since come to light.

In that light, there is another political plus in seating Burris. The guy seems to be a towering mediocrity as Steve Chapmanreminds us. He never was able to even convince Democrats that he deserved to be elected to an office higher than state attorney general or comptroller. Once news of his grandiose and egotistical monument to himselfleaked out, the guy became a joke. He would be a placeholder for the next two years. Then in 2010 when the next election took place the Republicans would be able to make the same arguments running against whichever Democrat got the nomination as they would have made in a special election held this year. Their chances of winning would be slight, but it was always going to be difficult to win that seat.

However, if the Democrats' machinations work out and Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn becomes governor and is able to nominate someone young and untainted by this whole scandal, that person would be in a much stronger position to run as the incumbent in 2010 than he or she would be in running for an open seat now amidst all the news of Democratic corruption.

So the Republicans can just sit back and enjoy the sight of the Democrats arguing amongst themselves about how sleazy the whole process has been and how tainted someone from their own party is. The GOP can stand on both principle and partisan self-interest. When opportunities like that arise, they should be grabbed.

For more from Betsy, click here.