updated 1/5/2009 5:00:13 PM ET 2009-01-05T22:00:13

Guests: Michelle Bernard, Roland Burris, Richard Wolffe, Lynn Sweet, Jon Meacham, Pat Buchanan, Steve McMahon, Richard Wolffe, Ron Brownstein, Lawrence O‘Donnell

MIKA BRZEZINKSI, HOST:  If you thought the week between Christmas and New Year‘s was a dead zone for politics, have we got a present for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), ILLINOIS:  I‘ve enjoyed the limelight I‘ve had over the last couple of weeks, and I think it‘s been—I don‘t want to hog the limelight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRZEZINSKI:  Oh yes you do.  And we‘re just getting started on 1600

PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.

Wow!  Three weeks until the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

Welcome to the show.  I‘m Brzezinski, in for David Shuster.

So much to say.  So little time. 

Day five about to start in the bombardment of Gaza.  Is the region waiting for word from the president-elect? 

The current president (INAUDIBLE).  How did the leader of the free world have that much time to read? 

And we look at the takeaway moments of 2008, the people, places and things you will always remember from this amazing year. 

But the headline first.  And you cannot make this up.  An all-new Illinois governor special.  The guy accused of trying to sell Barack Obama‘s Senate seat gets back in front of the cameras to announce his pick to replace the president-elect. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAGOJEVICH I‘m absolutely confident and certain that the United States Senate is going to seat a man of Roland Burris‘s unquestioned integrity, extensive experience and his long history of public service.  This is about Roland Burris as a United States senator, not about the governor who makes the appointment. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRZEZINSKI:  All right.  He is Roland Burris, former attorney general for Illinois, a donor to Blagojevich‘s campaign.  And this appointment came with a stern warning from both the governor and Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BOBBY RUSH (D), ILLINOIS:  And I would ask you to not hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer.  Separate, if you will, the appointee from the appointer.  Roland Burris is worthy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRZEZINSKI:  Wow! 

And this just in, breaking right now, President-elect Barack Obama‘s reaction.  He said this: “Roland Burris is a good man and a fine public servant, but the Senate Democrats made it clear weeks ago that they cannot accept an appointment made by a governor who is accused of selling this very Senate seat.  I agree with their decision, and it is extremely disappointing that Governor Blagojevich has chosen to ignore it.”

“I believe the best resolution would be for the governor to resign his office and allow a lawful and appropriate process of succession to take place.  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.” 

That‘s from President-elect Barack Obama. 

And joining us now, MSNBC political analyst and president of The Independent Women‘s Forum, Michelle Bernard.  She has an exclusive interview with Roland Burris. 

Michelle, take it away. 

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Sir, thank you so much for joining us. 

Your reaction to President-elect Barack Obama statement? 

ROLAND BURRIS, BLAGOJEVICH PICK FOR SENATE SEAT:  Michelle, I did not get the clear part of the statement.  Would you repeat that, please? 

BRZEZINSKI:  Well, he first of all said, Michelle, that the people of Illinois deserve a functioning government. 

And Mr. Burris, he said that he thinks the decisions being made by the government should be free of taint and controversy.  He does not agree with this decision for Blagojevich to make this choice. 

Your reaction, sir? 

BURRIS:  Well, I have no reaction to that.  I think the governor has the authority to appoint a person to the seat.  It‘s a legal position that he took. 

He appointed me, and I‘m very well qualified for the position.  And I am ready, willing and able to represent the 13 million people of our great state, as I‘ve done as a state comptroller for three terms, as I‘ve done as attorney general.

BERNARD:  Mr. Burris, thank you very much. 

A question for you though.  The secretary of state of Illinois needs to certify your appointment, and he is saying that under the circumstances, he absolutely cannot do so.  So what is your reaction to his feelings about this? 

BURRIS:  Well, Secretary White is a very good friend of mine.  I talked with him this morning, and I think he will rethink his position once he understands that his authority is really perfunctory, that the governor will be sending a letter to him just to certify the signature of the governor, and that would be passed on to the Senate. 

So this is a process.  We must go through the process not because of Roland Burris.  Because I don‘t have any taint. 

I am prepared to represent the people of my state.  And that‘s what I‘m going to do in the United States Senate. 

BERNARD:  Well, there are people who are questioning your ability to be effective under the circumstances. 

BRZEZINSKI:  Yes.  And Michelle, you know what to add to that? 

Effectiveness is a good question, Mr. Burris. 

Let me read a statement, Michelle, from Senator Harry Reid.  He says, “This is not about Mr. Burris; it‘s about the integrity of a governor accused of attempting to sell this U.S. Senate seat.  Under these circumstances, anyone appointed by Governor Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois.  And as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic caucus.”

“It is unfair to Mr. Burris.  It is unfair to the people of Illinois. 

And it ultimately will not stand.”

BERNARD:  Mr. Burris, again, the question is, assuming that you are in fact appointed, you go through the appointment process, how on earth do you think you can be an effective leader in the Senate under the circumstances?  How do we separate—how does the public separate Governor Blagojevich from you? 

BURRIS:  Well, it‘s a matter of assessing that I am not Governor Blagojevich, that I have not done anything wrong, that my interest is in the people of my state, and that‘s what I will be seeking to do.  We need a senator who knows this state—I do—who knows the problems that we have in the state—I do.  And I certainly am prepared to hit the ground running in the United States Senate on behalf of Illinois and on behalf of America. 

I‘m a former banker, I‘m a former official.  I have the qualifications and I am prepared to lead. 

I think that individuals are reacting to the governor.  They aren‘t reacting to Roland Burris and the fact that the governor had the constitutional authority.  Please keep that in mind. 

I‘m a former attorney general.  In our country, you are innocent until you‘re proven guilty. 

Now, I‘m making no reflection on the position of what the governor has done or not done, but the courts will take course.  The courts will then make that decision. 

But as of today, the governor has not been convicted of anything.  He is still the governor of our state with all the powers and duties pertaining thereto. 

BERNARD:  So the question then really is—I‘m going to play devil‘s advocate here. 

BURRIS:  Sure. 

BERNARD:  We have a man who has literally become the laughing stock of the country.  He has brought back visions of “The Sopranos” to Illinois.  People—he has been indicted.  He is under criminal investigation.  It has been reported that you yourself have called for him to relinquish his seat. 

How hard are you willing to fight for this appointment?  How hard are you willing to fight to get in there, go to the United States Senate and represent the people of Illinois? 

BURRIS:  Well, I think you will see a major outcry from the people in the state of Illinois based on the fact that the governor has appointed me and based on the fact that the governor—I mean, that the individuals are saying they will not seat me because of the actions that have nothing to do with me, but because the governor has some other problems in carrying out a constitutional duty. 

He could also be in trouble for not carrying out his duties of making the appointment.  That‘s what the U.S. Constitution says.  And so...

BERNARD:  Mr. Burris, were you on the original list of people that—names that were being bandied around for this seat? 

BURRIS:  I don‘t believe so.  I wasn‘t even in the picture at all.  I certainly had—certainly, my friends were calling into the governor‘s office recommending me to be appointed. 

BERNARD:  So why do you think he selected you?  Why do you think of all the people he could have selected, why do you think he selected you?  And do you think that race had anything to do with it?

BURRIS:  He selected me because I have the experience, the knowledge, the commitment and the dedication.  You know, the best-kept secret in the world is nobody had anything to do with their being born.

The fact that I‘m black, I had nothing to do with that.  The lord gave me that.  And therefore, I am certainly proud of who I am and I‘m prepared to continue my service to the people of my state as the junior senator from the fifth largest state in America, regardless of what the governor‘s problems are. 

Those aren‘t my problems.  What I am prepared to do is to deal with the problems of the people of Illinois. 

BERNARD:  So on an ending note, if you could tell the people of Illinois, and actually the nation at large, just in one sentence, how would you describe yourself as a man?  And what is the best argument you can give for why you could be an effective senator under the circumstances? 

BURRIS:  Because of my track record, because of my commitment, because of my dedication to being a public servant.  I‘ve done it for 20 years in the state of Illinois, and I will continue to do that as a United States senator. 

BRZEZINSKI:  This is Mika Brzezinski here. 

The one thing—I‘m just sitting back and listening to you and Michelle, and the exclusive interview that Michelle has brought to the table.  And I‘m conflicted, sir, because you‘ve given $4,500, according to Illinois state records, to the Blagojevich campaign fund.  Yet, you‘ve called for his resignation. 

How are you not intertwined with the scandal that is at play right now?  How do you separate yourself from the scandal, yet are chosen by the very man who is accused of trying to sell the Senate seat? 

BURRIS:  The operative word there is “accused.”  And based on that, he has not been convicted of anything.  And so I gave contributions with my little meager resources. 

I am a practicing attorney in my state and my resources are not that substantial.  And I gave because I was supportive of the governor and the governor‘s programs.  That doesn‘t have anything to do with what actions he‘s taken.

You know, there are people who gave contributions to governors who got in trouble or did certain things.  So that isn‘t a reflection of him appointing me to the seat.  He appointed me because I‘m qualified.  It has nothing to do with his actions.

BRZEZINSKI:  Oh, OK.

BURRIS:  OK?

BRZEZINSKI:  You know, I‘m having a hard time separating though, because you say he‘s just accused at this point.  Are you saying you are certain the governor has done nothing wrong?

BURRIS:  Are you going to try to put words in my mouth?  Please...

BRZEZINSKI:  No.  I‘m asking.

BURRIS:  Please do.  I have not said that.  I have said as a former attorney general, under our legal system, you‘re innocent until you‘re proven guilty.  And beyond that, I have nothing else to deal with the governor‘s problems.

Those are the problems of the governor.  And he has those problems. 

And a court—the courts will deal with him. 

It has nothing to do with me.  I am not tainted.  I am not involved in any shenanigans, because that is not me. 

I have the integrity and the trust of the people of Illinois.  And that‘s what I am seeking to carry out and to perform as a United States senator from my state. 

BERNARD:  Mr. Burris, is this—will you go make that argument to the secretary of state and to members of the United States Senate who have to seat you as well? 

BURRIS:  I certainly will if it‘s necessary.  I mean, if they find that they would like to deny me because of some actions that I had absolutely, positively nothing to do with, then we‘re certainly going to say that there is a legal authority that has appointed me based on the 17th Amendment of the United States Constitution.  And based on that—I‘m sorry, go ahead. 

BERNARD:  No, I was going to say, let‘s assume best case scenario, this appointment goes through, you come to Washington in the next few months.  Do you think you can win reelection in 2010? 

BURRIS:  Well, that is a process.  We must then make the determination as what I wanted to be as a senator and not a candidate at this point. 

I‘ll have to be able to get in, and certainly with the help of my senior senator, who‘s the number two man in the United States Senate, Dick Durbin, and begin to learn my way and begin to operate on behalf of my people.  I‘m looking forward to it with all the strength that I can muster in my body. 

BERNARD:  Well, Mr. Burris, thank you very much.  We wish you nothing but the best.  Good luck.

BURRIS:  God bless you all.  And thank you so much.  I listen to MSNBC all the time.  OK? 

BRZEZINSKI:  All right.

BERNARD:  Well, keep on watching. 

BURRIS:  Thank you all very much.  Happy New Year. 

BERNARD:  Thank you.

BRZEZINSKI:  All right, Michelle.  Thanks very much.  We appreciate it. 

Up next, we‘ll have reaction from Richard Wolffe and Lynn Sweet on this still developing story. 

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRZEZINSKI:  Welcome back to 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.

We just had an exclusive interview with the man Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich chose to replace Barack Obama in the Senate, Roland Burris. 

Let‘s bring in Lynn Sweet to talk about this.  She‘s a columnist with “The Chicago Sun-Times.”  And Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” and MSNBC political analyst. 

Lynn Sweet, you know, he sounds like a reasonable guy.  What do you think? 

LYNN SWEET, COLUMNIST, “CHICAGO SUN-TIMES”:  Well, I‘ve covered Roland Burris.  I‘ve known him for years and years.  He‘s been out of the limelight totally for a few years. 

Here‘s what I think.  I think he sees a chance to get to the Senate without having to have a campaign.  And he‘ll take appointment, and if there is some flak for taking it, so what?  He‘ll be in history books as a senator. 

And that‘s what is going on here.  He has—he‘s totally toned... 

And if you‘re listening, Attorney General Burris, you know, please bear with me here. 

He‘s tone deaf to the political situation and the corruption charges hanging over Blagojevich.  No one...

BRZEZINSKI:  Well, I certainly...

SWEET:  I‘m sorry.  Go on, Mika. 

BRZEZINSKI:  No—I certainly saw the disconnect there.  That he did not want to—he kept saying the governor is accused.  You know, he hasn‘t been convicted of anything and he is who he is.  I don‘t see how he separates himself from the scandal. 

Having said that, Lynn, the process is that the governor makes the choice, and the governor has made his choice. 

SWEET:  Absolutely.  And the governor used a loophole today that the Illinois Democrats created. 

They had a chance, and Rod Blagojevich talked about it in his press conference, by the way, which was a little crazy in itself as political theater.  Governor Blagojevich pointed out that the Illinois Democrats had a chance to vote for a special election in the legislature and they did not want to do it. 

They wanted an appointment to make sure there is a Democrat.  So now there comes Rod Blagojevich, which is, you know—saying that he is just doing the appointment because the legislature refused to create a special election. 

BRZEZINSKI:  Yes.

SWEET:  So, in that way, he is just sticking it to the Illinois Democrats, pure and simple. 

BRZEZINSKI:  Well, I would say he is, Blagojevich, for sure. 

Richard Wolffe, chime in.  First of all, what did you make of the interview that just happened here on 1600 with Mr. Burris?  And does he have a point about the process here?  But also, can he separate himself from the scandal and actually be effective?  Can this go through? 

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, great interview, and all credit to Michelle for bringing it in. 

And look, I hate to speak badly about a guy who obviously watches MSNBC a lot.  He‘s doing something right. 

But on the law—on the law, he‘s right.  On his resume, he seems to be perfectly qualified to be appointed.  But on the politics, he is flat-out wrong. 

He cannot disassociate himself not just from the governor, as he was trying to do, but from the governor when it comes to the seat the governor was allegedly trying to sell.  And it‘s not just about the politics, the appearance of how he takes his seat.  It‘s about, can he be effective for Illinois when he comes to Washington? 

When you have Harry Reid out there saying this is unacceptable, there is a prospect that the rest of the Senate won‘t want to seat him.  And even if they do, what kind of influence would you have?  Are you still sort of toxic or radioactive when you get to Washington? 

BRZEZINSKI:  Yes.

WOLFFE:  So, on the politics, I think there are so many drawbacks for him that, if he has any good sense, he would be rethinking this, as opposed to saying, well, how I would want my career to end out? 

BRZEZINSKI:  Yes. 

And Lynn, I would like to ask you about the process here.  I won‘t read the statement again, but Barack Obama put out a statement saying the people of Illinois are entitled to a functioning government and major decisions free of taint and controversy. 

Well, that certainly doesn‘t make the choice free of taint and controversy when it‘s Blagojevich making the choice.  But procedurally, legally, could this go through? 

SWEET:  Interesting, by the way, that Obama chose not to ask Burris in the statement not to take and it not to have anyone take it until they fix the—get the impeachment going. 

The Senate Democrats right now are researching as we speak what to do.  They are hoping that the secretary of state of Illinois, Jesse White, that a court would rule if it comes to that, that he does not have to certify appointment.  That their first wave of defense—the second wave then is they haven‘t figured it out. 

And Roland Burris, if you ask the question, why would he do it?  It‘s an easy question. 

He was at the end of his career.  He ran many times for higher offices in Illinois.  He couldn‘t get it.  And if this was a way to get to the Senate with some criticism, I think he would rather have the appointment with the criticism than not be able to tell his grandchildren he was a senator. 

BRZEZINSKI:  All right.

If you‘re just joining us, Michelle Bernard brought us an exclusive interview with Roland Burris, the man chosen by Governor Blagojevich to replace Barack Obama in the Senate. 

And here is Mr. Burris saying why he should have the job.  Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BURRIS:  He selected me because I have the experience, the knowledge, the commitment and the dedication.  You know, the best-kept secret in the world is nobody had anything to do with their being born.

The fact that I‘m black, I had nothing to do with that.  The lord gave me that.  And therefore, I am certainly proud of who I am and I‘m prepared to continue my service to the people of my state as the junior senator from the fifth largest state in America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRZEZINSKI:  OK. 

Richard Wolffe, he says race has nothing to do with it.  I respect that.  But what does scandal have to do with this. 

This is a guy who contributed to Blagojevich‘s campaign fund.  How does he separate himself from the scandal and actually look at the cameras and say he should have this job? 

WOLFFE:  Well, frankly, his best hope to separate himself is that Blagojevich somehow clears his name.  But when it comes to his own campaign contributions and, again, being selected by this guy in the midst of this cloud that‘s hanging over Illinois, it is really impossible to see how he breaks away from it. 

He does have a record which, by all reports and all testimony, is honorable and clean.  And he hasn‘t been wrapped up in this kind of Illinois politics.  But still, in these circumstances, it‘s impossible to escape it. 

And when it comes to the racial question, look, the danger of this story is that it spirals out of control.  That it becomes, as Bobby Rush said, accusations flying around about lynching and everything else. 

It is important.  It was an important criteria for everyone that this new senator be an African-American because of who he is replacing. 

BRZEZINSKI:  Yes.

WOLFFE:  Because there simply aren‘t enough African-American in the Senate.  And so, you know, to say that race has nothing to do with this story is again, just not part of the real world. 

BRZEZINSKI:  Well, good lord, this is still a developing story.  We haven‘t even gotten to what Bobby Rush had to say.  We‘ll get to that.

Richard Wolffe, Lynn Sweet, thanks very much.

Up next, rarely is the question asked, “Is our go president learning today?”  We can say yes, thanks to Karl Rove, who laid out President Bush‘s reading list, nearly 200 books in the last three years. 

We wonder who was watching the shop while he was engrossed in a history of English-speaking people since 1900.  Oh, wait, more selections from the oval book club when 1600 returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRZEZINSKI:  We‘re back with a look at what‘s going on in “The Briefing Room.”

Well, more like the reading room tonight.  More specifically, President Bush‘s reading room, a room he spent a lot of time in, apparently. 

Thanks to Karl Rove, we now know that he and the president had themselves a little reading contest.  The first year, Rove won, 110 books to Bush‘s 95.  The president lost again in a rematch in 2007, 51 books to Rove‘s 76. 

And this year, can you say threepeat?   Rove beat the president again, 64 books to 40.

One interesting thing here.  The president had time to read anywhere from three to six books in a given month over the past three years.  Even more interesting is the fact that Condoleezza Rice told people not to give the president a lot of long memos because he‘s not a big reader. 

And among the books the president read, Jon Meacham‘s “American Lion:

Andrew Jackson in the White House.”  That‘s a good book. 

And joining us now, Jon Meacham, “Newsweek” editor.  He joins me.

Hey, John, thanks for joining us tonight.  A lot going on in politics. 

We‘ll start though with President Bush‘s reading list.  Are you surprised to see your book at the list here? 

JON MEACHAM, EDITOR, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, given the president‘s fondness for “Newsweek,” I was, to inject some irony here.  Obviously, you love folks to read your book, and President Jackson was someone who liked executive power in the same—roughly a similar way that President Bush does. 

And I think that one of the things that Karl‘s piece in “The Wall Street Journal” shows is that the president and Karl, I think, given the chaos of the president, have been trying to find some light, some way forward in the past.  And it will be up to history going forward to figure out how well they did. 

BRZEZINSKI:  Well, you know, especially given the “Vanity Fair” article that‘s getting a lot of play, Karl Rove‘s piece, is this an attempt to work on the legacy project, so to speak? 

MEACHAM:  I think we will see with the 43rd president a formidable legacy project, I think.  It will be a little like President Reagan‘s attempts, his camp‘s attempts to really shape how the president is viewed.  I think that will be something that has begun and will continue.

The interesting question going forward, obviously, is you‘re judged by the impact of what you do.  And his legacy is inexorably intertwined with what happens in Iraq.  And that‘s the most serious thing in the world at the moment, also Afghanistan.  So, in an interesting way, for all the maneuvering people want to do in terms of public opinion, and public image, the facts on the ground in those two places, as they unfold. will decide how we view President Bush for years and decades to come. 

BRZEZINSKI:  Well, Jon Meacham, it is good to see your book is getting presidential play.  We‘ll talk to you a little bit later in the show about the Blago story still developing right now.  Jon Meacham, thanks. 

And for the fourth day, Israel continued air strikes on Gaza, while Hamas launched rockets for the first time, hitting the city of Bersheba (ph), 28 miles across the border.  With more than 380 Palestinian casualties and hundreds more wounded, Israel is under international pressure to halt attacks for 48 hours.  But the U.S. has emphasized that it wants a sustainable cease fire, saying it is the responsibility of Hamas to stop its rocket attack. 

We‘ll have more on that.  Up next, Barack Obama was heralded as a post-racial candidate.  But it is not clear—it is clear though, he is not living in a post racial world.  Comments about lynching and racist song lyrics are both making headlines today, and both involve the president-elect.  We‘ll talk about that when 1600 returns right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRZEZINSKI:  Tonight, political chaos in Obama‘s home state; the Illinois governor accused of trying to sell Obama‘s Senate seat holds a press conference naming a replacement.  The deputy governor responds with a press conference denouncing him.  Senate Democrats say they won‘t seat his choice.  And an African-American Congressman is talking about lynching.  So much for the new-post racial era as 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE continues.

Welcome back to 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.  Today, disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich once again played ring master in the circus surrounding Obama‘s Senate seat.  Despite bipartisan and nearly unanimous pleas for him not to get involved in appointing a replacement, today Governor Blagojevich held a news conference to roll out his choice to replace Obama in the U.S. Senate. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), ILLINOIS:  Roland Burris is no stranger to the people of our state.  He will be a great United States senator.  And now, I would like to ask everyone to do one last thing.  Please don‘t allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRZEZINSKI:  Yes.  Senate Democrats say they won‘t seat anyone appointed by Blagojevich.  But at the news conference, Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush said that won‘t be a problem. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BOBBY RUSH (D), ILLINOIS:  There are no African-Americans in the Senate and I don‘t think that anyone, any U.S. senator who is sitting in the Senate right now want to go on record to deny one African-American for being seated in the U.S. Senate.  I don‘t think they want go on record doing that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRZEZINSKI:  At the top of the hour, in his first interview, a 1600 exclusive, Roland Burris responded with this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BURRIS:  I have not done anything wrong and my interest is in the people of my state.  That‘s what I will be seeking to do.  We need a senator who knows this state.  I do.  Who knows the problem that we have in the state.  I do.  And I certainly am prepared to hit the ground running in the United States Senate on behalf of Illinois and on behalf of America. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRZEZINSKI:  Wow!  Let me bring in Ron Brownstein, political director for Atlanta Media, Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women‘s Forum, who brought is this exclusive interview, Pat Buchanan, former Reagan White House communications director and Nixon speech writer, and Steve McMahon joins us as well, democratic strategist. 

Thank you all for joining us.  Michelle, great job getting the get.  Talk to us a little bit about his qualifications.  We were talking it before the show.  There was a point that you wanted to make about Roland Burris big picture. 

BERNARD:  Big picture, Roland Burris, from everything I‘ve read, is undoubtedly qualified for this position.  From what I‘m told, he is a good man.  He was the attorney general of the state of Illinois.  He held another statewide office before that, one of the first African-Americans elected to several positions in the state of Illinois.  It is a shame in this post-Barack Obama racial world, though, that Blagojevich has found a way to throw race into it. 

One of the things I mean by that, for example, is after Senator Obama was elected, when Eric Holder was nominated—I know Eric Holder.  I didn‘t look at him as possibly being the first African-American attorney general.  I just looked at it as Eric Holder, great guy, been nominated.  Hopefully his appointment will go through. 

What Bobby Rush did today, and probably what Blagojevich was thinking about doing as well was he found someone who was qualified, but by introducing race into it, he is putting people into a position where somebody say—he is putting us backwards, because people are going to feel on the defensive.  And there are going to be people who argue, well, you have to give him the seat because he‘s African American.  Mr. Burris himself has made it very clear to us, he is qualified.  If he gets this job, he should have it because he‘s qualified, not just because he‘s African-American. 

BRZEZINSKI:  Pat Buchanan, qualified or not, we have a problem.  There is a scandal.  There‘s an investigation.  There is a link.  Is there not? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Look, I don‘t see what the problem is, to be honest.  You have a governor, sure, he is under a cloud.  There is no cloud I‘ve seen over this selection and choice of Mr. Burris.  He seems not only an honorable, decent—he is experienced.  He‘s run for statewide office and won.  He‘s been an attorney general of Illinois.  He contributed 4,500 dollars, which is inconsequential. 

I mean, is there any cloud over it?  I don‘t see it and I don‘t see how and why Harry Reid, as Senate majority leader, can sit up there when you have a nominee from Illinois, by the sitting governor, and he sends this man to the Senate, and Harry Reid is going to say, we‘re not going to let you in our caucus?  Upon what grounds?

BRZEZINSKI:  Steve McMahon, are we supposed to take this choice seriously, given who made the choice?  

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I think that‘s the whole problem here.  It is not a question of whether Roland Burris is qualified.  Clearly he is.  He has an outstanding record.  I think this is a situation where you have to deny him, even though he is an African-American, because of the taint.  I‘m kind of surprised that Blagojevich didn‘t get up there today and say, sold.  That‘s what everybody was hearing when he was making this announcement.  That‘s unfortunate because that taints this pick.  It taints this pick.   

BUCHANAN:  That‘s not true. 

BERNARD:  Initially but—it taints the pick initially, but I honestly believe that if he gets in there, this will go away. 

BRZEZINSKI:  Oh, my god. 

BERNARD:  I do.  I do. 

BUCHANAN:  This is a great choice. 

BRZEZINSKI:  You‘re kidding me!

BUCHANAN:  You‘re putting a cloud over something and we don‘t know—

Is there anybody who think this guy has done a corrupt thing in naming this individual? 

BRZEZINSKI:  Ron Brownstein, help me out here.  How do we separate the scandal from the choice here? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, I think Blagojevich made the choice that he thought would be most difficult for Senate Democrats to reject.  Both in the sense of Mr. Burris being an African-American but also a former attorney general.  I think there are many problems for Democrats, not the least of which is the electoral one.  Down the road, the only way—if in fact, this does go through, if Burris is allowed to be seated, if any of Blagojevich‘s picks are allowed to be seated, should this be rejected; the only way for voters to express their view on that would be to vote against that person when they‘re up for re-election, creating a vulnerability that might not have been there otherwise. 

Look, Blagojevich is showing a lot of nerve here by going forward, as he is throughout this crisis for him.  He is basically coming out swinging and daring the other side to say no. 

BUCHANAN:  Look, the guy has not said he will run again.  In two years, he gets the appointment or whatever it is.  He has not said he is going to run again.  Look, what bothers me, he has corrupt language on that tape.  He‘s been convicted of nothing.  There is no evidence that this decision, which Blagojevich not only has a right to make, but a duty to fulfill his office, because there‘s an empty Senate seat—there is no evidence of the least corruption in the appointment of Mr. Burris.  And the idea that people are putting a cloud over hill, it seems to me to be unjust. 

BRZEZINSKI:  The president elect is as well.  Barack Obama wants nothing to do with this. 

BUCHANAN:  He‘s leaving it to Harry Reid. 

BERNARD:  Let‘s talk a little bit of nuts and bolts here.  I‘m being told from the Burris folks that the secretary of state‘s office of Illinois is actually backing down from the statement that he made earlier.  His signature is perfunctory.  If you go back—

BUCHANAN:  That would be outrageous.   

BERNARD:  There is a real question about whether or not the Senate can actually refuse to seat him. 

BRZEZINSKI:  I think if—go ahead, Ron.  You‘re going to ask the same question I am. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Right.  That will clearly be a legal issue that will be debated.  I do think, Pat, that if he does decide to run, the ability of the other side to say, this is a hand picked choice of the by then, in all likelihood, indicted and perhaps convicted governor, that‘s a risk that Democrats will face.  And there is no easy solution.  There is no initial cloud. 

BUCHANAN:  That‘s a political risk.  And I agree with your analysis.  But you don‘t reject a man who is an honorable man for the Senate seat because you say, hey, you might not get reelected two years.  You can‘t do that. 

BRZEZINSKI:  The Caroline Kennedy, we‘re moving it on.  You all stay. 

We‘re carrying this over.  We will be right back.  Ron, stay where you are.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRZEZINSKI:  Welcome back to 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.  Roland Burris is Blago‘s choice to replace Barack Obama in the Senate.  Let‘s talk about this more.  Rapid fire, shall we?  Lawrence O‘Donnell is former chief of staff to the Senate Finance Committee.  Still with us, the woman who brought us the exclusive interview, Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women‘s Forum.  And Ron Brownstein, still with us, political director for Atlantic Media.  And Pat Buchanan, former Reagan White House communications director and Nixon speech writer. 

Lawrence, we‘ll start with you.  How does he separate himself, as he tried to, I think, quite recently on this show from the scandal of the man who chose him? 

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it is not clear that he is going to be able to do that, especially now that President Obama has spoken—President-Elect Obama, who is the biggest player in this story.  And he has come out today and given a state where he backs Senator Harry Reid‘s decision and the Democrats‘ decision not to seat anyone Blagojevich selects. 

Now, the interesting question, as we know, is—I used to work in the Senate and we certainly believed that the Senate had that power, but like many rarely used powers, you‘re never actually sure how that works until it comes down to a real case.  So this—it may not work.  But in order for Burris to override what the Democrats of chosen to do, it would take many, many months of litigation at least to do that.  So we‘ll see how that plays out. 

I agree with Pat Buchanan‘s perspective, if you look at it from a certain angle, ignoring those wiretaps for the moment.  And you say, OK.  Blagojevich was under pressure in terms of making this choice.  He was going to have to make the cleanest choice he could possibly make.  This is the kind of person you pick under those circumstances.  And it is unclear what grounds you would use in court to say he cannot be seated in the Senate. 

BRZEZINSKI:  That‘s a good question.  Pat, Ron Brownstein, they don‘t want him though, Senate Democrats, President Elect Barack Obama. 

BUCHANAN:  This man, from what I know of him, he is a gentlemen.  He is clean and honest.  He‘s had an excellent career.  He is qualified.  He is an attorney general.  He ran state wide.  This dignified gentleman, African American, walks up to the Senate, says I‘ve been appointed in an honorable appointment by a governor who is under a cloud to the U.S.  Senate.  They‘re going to slam the door in his face?  I don‘t believe that. 

I certainly wouldn‘t. 

O‘DONNELL:  They will if Barack Obama says so. 

BUCHANAN:  There is no taint on this man.  You can‘t do that. 

BERNARD:  There‘s no taint on him.  Just an historical footnote; there were numerous African-Americans elected to the United States Congress post Reconstruction and Congress refused to seat them because they were black.  It is tangential.  But it is an important historical footnote to remember.  I think the Senate Democrats are going to be thinking that.  Barack Obama had to say what he did today. 

BRZEZINSKI:  Something to keep in mind, maybe.  Ron Brownstein, Barack Obama is not very supportive of Blago making any choice at this point, at this stage in the game.  This is a guy who called for Blagojevich‘s resignation.

BROWNSTEIN:  I remember when the tapes came out, there were a lot of people who stupidity is no excuse for venality.  We may have to re-assess a little here.  Blagojevich is showing political cleverness.  He has, as I said, chosen, I think, the figure who could make this as difficult as possible for President-Elect Obama and the Senate Democrats. 

There‘s a larger reality here.  This was the first election in American history, this last presidential election, when less than three quarters of the votes were cast by whites; 26 percent of the vote came from non-whites: African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, other minorities.  The Senate does not reflect that changing America.  And again, this Burris appointment, I think, is a very shrewd and perhaps cynical, but a very difficult play by an embattled governor to make this as difficult as possible for Democrats going forward. 

BUCHANAN:  The Democratic party—all right.  The president-elect of the United States, 26 percent of his votes came from African-Americans.  Democrat have 58, 59 seats in the Senate.  Not one African American there, even though they‘re the party basically being represented with the whole country.  They can‘t turn this man down. 

BRZEZINSKI:  That‘s great, but Lawrence, I just—it is not about race. 

BUCHANAN:  It is in part—it is a perfectly legitimate consideration to appoint a member of a minority that is utterly unrepresented in the Senate. 

BRZEZINSKI:  I think the question though here, Lawrence, is Blagojevich the one who should be making this choice? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, Blagojevich was clearly going for a little bit of political racial blackmail here.  And having Bobby Rush come up there and use the word lynch and say how can this white Senate turn down the only black member was clearly an attempt to create that momentum.  But Barack Obama‘s statement came out after that.  And Barack Obama is in a position to give the Senate Democrats protection on that flank in terms of that question. 

And so look, there are weeks ahead of us here on how this is going to unfold and the pressures could change day to day.  Watching how quickly Harry Reid and the Democrats and Barack Obama coordinated on trying to roadblock this today was very impressive.  They are in a very solid position right now on trying to roadblock this.  This looks like it will end up in court.

BERNARD:  Burris is going to fight for this until the very end.  He‘s going to fight for this.  It will be very interesting to see what happens. 

BUCHANAN:  I think the country will be with the guy, too.  He is a lone guy.  He looks honorable, nice, decent.  He was a very attractive fellow.  

BRZEZINSKI:  I personally don‘t think we‘re done with this topic. 

I‘ll fight it out with the producer during the break.

Coming up, the most memorable moments from an unforgettable political year, which includes this one.  1600 after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRZEZINSKI:  2008, the kind of year legends, great jokes and Jeopardy categories are made of.  What will you take away from 2008 as the  lesson or memory of this historic year?  Joining me now with a few moments to remember, favorites of this unforgettable year, Jon Meacham, editor of “Newsweek” and author of “American Lion, Andrew Jackson in the White House,” a great book, Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek” and Pat Buchanan still with us.  I want to talk about Blago.  I‘ll ask Pat.  What is your moment of 2008 that you‘ll never forget? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, there‘s a lot of wonderful things about the campaign.  Phenomenal campaign.  Amazing campaign, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, Hillary‘s great comeback. 

But I think the most important moment is the day Lehman Brothers died. 

I think that basically destroyed the chances of McCain for his comeback.  He was two or three points ahead.  It wiped him out.  More importantly, Mika, I think that is going to change all of our lives.  This is almost a 1929 moment in the financial markets.  And we all pray it won‘t go into the larger economy.  But I am afraid we‘re going to live with the consequences of this all our lives. 

BRZEZINSKI:  Jon Meacham, what‘s your choice? 

MEACHAM:  It shouldn‘t have the story I‘m about to tell you for me to realize this, but the debate between Iowa and New Hampshire that Saturday night, the one in which Senator Obama said, “you‘re likable enough, Hillary,” is the one I remember because I was watching it with my—I apologize to everyone for this—my three and a half year old.  I‘m a really fun babysitter. 

She was watching, looking up at it.  And she said, what is this?  And I said, these the people who want to be president.  And she said, but girls can‘t be president.  And I thought, oh, god, what have I done?  Have I somehow communicated a gender problem?  What she meant was, it turned, that a girl hadn‘t been president, because of place mats.  And if you‘re like me and Pat and Richard, you do most of your shopping in the National Airport gift shop for really glamorous gifts. 

And what she meant was that she had never seen a woman in that role.  And what I realized then was that no matter, whether Senator Obama or Senator Clinton won the nomination, and if one of them won the presidency, that the visual vocabulary would change forever.  My children will now grow up with both the plausible idea of a woman being president, and the reality of an African American being president. 

BRZEZINSKI:  You know, as a mother of two girls, I like that choice. 

Richard Wolffe, yours for the year? 

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, Mika, mine is only just a couple of days after that in New Hampshire, the “Yes We Can” speech.  That was such an intense period.  For a start, any political speech that can be set to music by Will.I.Am, and turned into a viral video is pretty extraordinary.  But what you had at that moment was every political pundit and every political brain proved wrong.  And the intensity of being in that gym, in Nashua, New Hampshire when that speech came out was extraordinary for a start, because everything had been upended.  And secondly, because I think it was, by far and away, the best speech Barack Obama gave, and he gave a lot of good speeches, because it was such a strong moment at a time of weakness, because out of that failure he reinspired his troops and plunged right back in there. 

That alone, amid the swirl of what does this all mean, was just an unforgettable time in an extraordinary election year. 

BRZEZINSKI:  It was an extraordinary year for sure.  Richard Wolffe, Jon Meacham and Pat Buchanan, thank you very much, gentlemen, for joining me tonight.  That is view from 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.  I‘m Mika Brzezinski.  Thank you so much for watching.  A special edition of “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews is up next.

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