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 .

updated 1/7/2009 8:40:04 AM ET 2009-01-07T13:40:04

Nature abhors a vacuum, and there was a big one in Washington for the last couple of weeks. After all, you had one president about to check out and an incoming president still not officially checked in -- unless, of course, you count the future first family's stay at the Hay-Adams.

As such, the mini-drama involving Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Senate pick Roland Burris has hogged the spotlight -- even now that the long holiday lull is over and the president-elect is holding to an active public schedule.

I'll admit it: The Blagojevich presser on the eve of New Year's Eve was riveting. "Saturday Night Live" couldn't have done a better job. Even so, the Burris bluster isn't going to impact Barack Obama or grind the workings of the Senate to a halt. Obama's focused on pushing through his stimulus package by a big, bipartisan majority. One less Democrat in the Senate isn't going to imperil its fate.

Instead, this saga -- along with the seemingly never-ending Minnesota Senate contest between Norm Coleman and Al Franken -- will have more of an impact on the partisan tone and tenor of the upper chamber. And the person with the most control over what that will be is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

It's unclear if Senate Democrats knew what kind of potential legal pickle they were putting themselves in when they declared soon after Blagojevich's arrest on Dec. 9 that they would not seat anyone appointed by the embattled governor. To be sure, it seemed like the kind of threat that would scare off most politicians. Even Blagojevich's attorney said he doubted the governor would make an appointment. But Senate Democrats were ascribing rational behavior to a clearly irrational individual.

Video: Blagojevich picks Burris for Obama seat Now that Blagojevich has called Reid's bluff, and Burris is clearly willing to play along, Reid has hinted that he'd be open to some sort of compromise. One recently floated proposal would have Senate Democrats seat Burris on the condition that the 71-year-old agree not run in 2010. That, however, flies in the face of Reid's strongest argument: that the decision not to seat Burris was not based on political calculations, but on the sins of the appointer. If the argument is that any appointment made by Blagojevich is contaminated, how would making Burris a placeholder do anything to take away the taint? Plus, the whole concept of a placeholder is fraught with political danger. This is a deal that Burris is making with Reid, not the voters of Illinois. What kind of leverage do Senate Democrats have in making sure he keeps his word?

Reid's decision late Monday night to avoid a confrontation over seating Franken also suggests that he's willing to hold the line on Burris. One argument for seating Burris rested on a hypothetical double standard. After all, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has refused to sign the official certification for Burris, but Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty also hasn't signed off on Franken -- which, by the way, state law says he can't do if there is an official legal challenge. So how could seating Franken be fair?

More important, seating Franken in the face of a very aggressive pushback from Senate Republicans, especially newly installed National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn, would likely poison the well for any future talk of bipartisan comity. To be sure, Coleman's legal challenge could mean that Minnesota is down one senator, potentially for many weeks. But with 57 or 58 other Democrats, Franken's absence isn't a majority-breaker. Plus, Democrats can now label Coleman and the GOP as sore losers and try to sway public opinion in the state.

In the end, it seems that the Burris issue may be in the hands of the Illinois legislature. If it can quickly push through the impeachment proceedings, the state's newest senator could be appointed by a "taint-free" lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn. Reports suggest that the state House is likely to vote as early as the end of this week or next.

Given that Quinn will likely run for re-election in '10, can he afford not to appoint a black candidate? Perhaps he is the one who could make the deal with Burris as a placeholder; then, in the end, Burris gets his seat, Reid holds his ground and Quinn looks like a peace broker.

Of course, this assumes that by the time this all happens, Burris has not become a national punch line. His behaviorthus farsuggests that may be happening sooner than later.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments