Video: Reid: Burris is ‘tainted’ by Blagojevich

  1. Transcript of: Reid: Burris is ‘tainted’ by Blagojevich

    Let's move on back home and talk about the controversial appointment of Roland Burris by Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich . Back when this story first broke, when the charges of corruption were brought against Governor Blagojevich , you put him on notice. And you had a letter that was signed by all Senate Democrats that said, in part, the following:"We write to insist that you step down as governor of Illinois and under no circumstance make an appointment to fill the vacant Illinois Senate seat. Please understand that should you decide to ignore the request ... and make an appointment we would be forced to exercise our Constitutional authority under Article 1 , Section 5 , to determine whether such a person should be seated." In other words, you can reject that appointment . You did that because Governor Blagojevich defied that letter, defied you. He appointed Roland Burris . Roland Burris also defying you. He spoke on MSNBC to Rachel Maddow this week, and this is what he said:

    MR. ROLAND BURRIS: I have been legally appointed by the governor of our state , and my hope and prayer that my Democratic colleagues will recognize that what they are doing is not in

    anyway form, shape or fashion legal. To deny me the seat based on some allegations by the appointee -- by the appointer really does not lend itself to disqualify me as a unqualified person to be appointed.

    MR. GREGORY: What is your basis for denying him?

    SEN. REID: Blagojevich obviously is a corrupt individual. I think that's pretty clear. And the reason that he's done what he's done is to divert attention from the arrest that was just made of him and the indictment which will be coming in a few days, according to the U.S. attorney in Illinois . That's why President-elect Obama agreed with us that Mr. Burris is tainted. Not as a result of anything that he's done wrong. There's -- I don't know a thing wrong with Mr. Burris . It's not the person that has been appointed, it's the appointee. If Blagojevich would do the right thing, that is step down, or he'll probably be impeached. And he gave us Mr. Burris , he gave us Jesse Jackson Jr. , Danny Davis , Madigan , all the fine people who we have from Illinois , they would be taken care of just like this.

    MR. GREGORY: Well, you, you say he's an obviously corrupt person. He has not been formally charged, no has -- nor has he had a chance to confront the evidence against him. Are -- isn't that a rush to judgment?

    SEN. REID: We have to understand that this man has had a cloud over him prior to his arrest. That's why the Illinois state legislature 's moving forward expeditiously -- in fact, next week -- to start impeachment proceedings. So I don't think, I don't think we have many cheerleaders for Blagojevich that he's an honest, upright citizen...

    MR. GREGORY: But...

    SEN. REID: ...of the state of Illinois .

    MR. GREGORY: But he is still legally the governor. He's doing business. He's been accused but not convicted of anything, and not even formally accused. And there's, there's nothing suggesting that the appointment was at all illegal.

    SEN. REID: It -- Danny Davis , a fine congressman from the state of Illinois , was offered, by Blagojevich , the job.

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    SEN. REID: He said, "I can't accept this because my constituents, the people state of Illinois , would never accept me based on the cloud you have over you." And that's the problem we have. Now, what we're going to do is I'm, I plan on meeting with him and Senator Durbin on Wednesday. That's my understanding. We're going to visit with him.

    MR. GREGORY: Roland Burris , you're talking about?

    SEN. REID: That's right, Roland Burris .

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    SEN. REID: And we would hope that in the meantime Blagojevich , with the impeachment proceedings that are ongoing against him, would do the right thing, step down. And then if Pat Quinn -- who I've spoken to, a very fine man who's the lieutenant governor -- would become the acting governor or the governor, he wants to appoint Burris or anyone else, that would be fine. There is a cloud over Blagojevich , and at this stage a cloud over the state of Illinois . They don't have a vote. And if -- as long as Blagojevich has done the appointing, it's really a tainted appointment .

    MR. GREGORY: If Burris shows up, you won't seat him?

    SEN. REID: Well, we're going to do what we have to do, and we're going to follow all legal precedents. We think that we're pretty clear on what we believe is the law, and the precedent in the United States Senate that we are, we are the ones that determine -- Democrats and Republicans determine who is going to sit in the Senate . It's been that way since before 1800 .

    MR. GREGORY: Well, let me press you on that point. A, a critical editorial on the LA Times made this argument:"The Constitution says that each house of Congress `shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members' and may punish members for `disorderly behavior' or, on a two-thirds vote, expel a sitting member. Neither provision justifies excluding a senator because of the unrelated wrongdoing of the governor making the appointment . ... It's doubtful whether the Senate could refuse to seat ... any duly elected member who met age, residency and citizenship requirements. In 1969 , the Supreme Court overturned a resolution by the House barring Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr . from taking his seat. Powell had been accused of financial improprieties. ... Exasperated as they are at being outfoxed by Blagojevich , his colleagues and critics must face the fact that he is still the governor of Illinois and empowered to appoint an interim U.S. senator . It's not a pretty situation, but it's the law."

    SEN. REID: The LA Times is wrong. They use the Powell case as precedent, that's not in keeping with what the problem is here today. They were talking at that time about the qualifications of Adam Clayton Powell , and the Supreme Court said, "We are not going to deal with the qualifications of Adam Clayton Powell ." This is totally a different situation. This is not dealing with the appointee. I think everyone that I've talked to said that Burris is a good guy. We're talking about a cloud over anyone that comes from the state of Illinois , being appointed by Blagojevich .

    MR. GREGORY: But what in the Constitution allows you to judge Roland Burris in, in this manner, to not seat him?

    SEN. REID: The LA Times quoted part of it itself from the Constitution : We determine who sits in the Senate , and the House determines who sits in the House . So there's clearly legal authority for us to do whatever we want to. This goes back for generations.

    MR. GREGORY: Senator, isn't this really all about politics? Isn't your primary consideration who you deem to be electable in 2010 ?

    SEN. REID: No, I don't think so. This situation is this. I've spoken to the governor of the state of Colorado , because that's my responsibility as majority leader. There is -- Ken Salazar 's going to be interior secretary. And we had some wonderful conversations. Governor Ritter asked me how he felt -- how I felt about the opening. I told him what a great guy Salazar was. He talked about different candidates. And I said to him, "Governor, you appoint whoever is best in your mind for the state of Colorado ." And he did. He came up with Bennet , kind of someone that not a lot people have known about. But what we hear about him now is that he's...

    MR. GREGORY: This is Michael Bennet ...

    SEN. REID: Yeah.

    MR. GREGORY: ...the school chief out there.

    SEN. REID: Going to be, going to be a new senator from the state of Colorado .

    MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

    SEN. REID: New York . I've spoken to Governor Paterson several times. He's asked me how I feel about Caroline Kennedy , as an example, which I think is terrific. But I always said to Paterson , "You appoint whoever you want." And my one conversation with Blagojevich -- had a number...

    MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

    SEN. REID: ...of conversations with the Colorado governor and the New York governor -- " Blagojevich , make sure you give us someone who can hit the ground running." Of course we're concerned about what happens in 2010 , but this has nothing to do with 2010 . It has everything to do with the corrupt governor.

    MR. GREGORY: All right, but let, let's talk about those conversations you had with Governor Blagojevich . Apparently you made it clear that three men were not acceptable to you: Jesse Jackson Jr. , Danny Davis , Emil Jones . And yet you just said Jesse Jackson would be fine. Is that what you said, that these men would not be acceptable?

    SEN. REID: This is part of Blagojevich 's cloud. He's making all this up. I had a conversation with him. I don't remember what was in the conversation, other than the generalities that I just talked about. I didn't tell him who not to appoint. He's making all this up to divert attention...

    MR. GREGORY: Don't you think these conversations are on tape?

    SEN. REID: Of course.

    MR. GREGORY: For the U.S. attorney 's investigation?

    SEN. REID: I'm, I'm sure they are. But -- that's right. And that's why what he's saying, he's making it up.

    MR. GREGORY: So he's wrong, Jesse Jackson Jr. was always acceptable to you?

    SEN. REID: Jesse Jackson Jr. is somebody that I think would be a good senator. And for Blagojevich to start throwing out these names of people who I wanted and didn't want...

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    SEN. REID: ...he's making it up.

    MR. GREGORY: People close to Roland Burris are raising another suggestion, and this is how Politico reports it this morning:"Top advisers to [ Burris ] are suggesting that Reid doesn't want an African-American to succeed Obama . `It's interesting that all those who are viable are white women and the ones who are unacceptable are black men,' Prince Riley , a senior consultant to Burris , told Politico." Your response?

    SEN. REID: I have no idea who Prince Riley is. But I do know that I've served in the United States Senate with two outstanding senators, Carol Moseley Braun and Barack Obama , both African-Americans from the state of Illinois . I worked harder than anyone in this country for Ron Kirk running for senator, senator for the state of Texas . As a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee , we spent more money in the state of Tennessee than any state in the country trying to get Harold Ford elected. I have -- anyone that suggests there's any racial bias in this instance doesn't realize I went to the Clark County district attorney's office to find a -- people thought was a nobody to become a federal judge , Johnnie Rawlinson . She was a great judge. She's now on the Ninth Circuit . I did that myself. So anyone to suggest anything racial is part of the Blagojevich spin to take away from the corruption that's involved his office in Illinois .

By contributor
updated 1/4/2009 12:38:06 PM ET 2009-01-04T17:38:06

Appearing on "Meet the Press," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Sunday that while the “legal authority” exists to bar the “tainted” appointment of Roland Burris, there is room to negotiate.

Under the Constitution, Reid said, "we determine who sits in the Senate, and the House determines who sits in the House. So there's clearly legal authority for us to do whatever we want to do. This goes back for generations."

Calling Illinois Gov. Blagojevich's appointment of Burris unworthy by association, Reid said, "There is a cloud over Blagojevich, and at this stage, over the state of Illinois. As long as Blagojevich has done the appointing, it's really a tainted appointment."

In addition, Reid accused the embattled governor of attempting to mask his problems. "The state of Illinois deserves a vote in the U.S. Senate ... it's too bad Blagojevich has diverted attention from the real issue."

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"He should do the right thing and step down," Reid said, claiming that Pat Quinn, the lieutenant governor of Illinois and Blagojevich's potential successor, could easily appoint Burris if he deemed him the right man for the job.

Reid also said that his position was not influenced by the future electability of a Blagojevich appointee but by an adherence to ethics and the law. "This has nothing to do with 2010 and everything to do with a corrupt governor," Reid said.

Citing direct phone conversations he had had with both Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and New York Gov. David Patterson — Democrats who are charged with filling empty Senate seats — Reid insisted that he was not attempting to exert any political pressure, explaining that he told Ritter, "Governor, you appoint whoever is best in your mind for the state of Colorado."

However, Reid wouldn't go so far to say that Burris stands no chance of joining him in the Senate. "It's going to be very difficult for that to occur," he told moderator David Gregory , but added: "I'm an old trial lawyer; there's always room to negotiate."

Discussing President-elect Barack Obama's proposed economic stimulus plans, Reid said that any stimulus package must have broad support. "Whatever we do must be done on a bipartisan basis. We must recognize the economy is in deep trouble."

Responding to Gregory's question about the plan's timing, Reid said that Congress will move as quickly as possible on the package, but declined to predict when it will be ready for Obama to sign into law. "I'm not going to give a timeline, we're going to do it as quickly as we can."


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