About the appointment by Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate, somebody big is lying, big-time. It is either the governor or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Last week, Reid declared that he would not permit Burris, the African-American elder statesman of Illinois politics, to fill Obama's seat, or even to enter the Senate chamber, though no one had suggested Burris is other than an honorable and able public man.
Reid declared Burris "a tainted appointment,"not because of any ethical defect of his, but because of the cloud over the governor who had appointed him.
Saturday, however, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, in a story sourced to the governor's office, that Reid personally phoned Blago on Dec. 3, six days before the scandal broke, to urge him not to name any of three high-profile candidates for the Obama seat.
On the Reid blacklist were, according to the source, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Rep. Danny Davis and State Senate President Emil Jones.
What do the three have in common? All are black. Reid reportedly urged Blagojevich to pick either state Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth or Attorney General Lisa Madigan. What do these women have in common? Neither is black.
As Prince Riley, a senior consultant to Burris, told Politico, "It's interesting that all those who are viable are white women and the ones who are unacceptable are black men." It sure is, Prince—if the story is true.
Confronted by David Gregory on "Meet the Press," Reid called Blago a liar and said he thinks Jackson would make a fine senator. Said 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 ..."
However, this brings us back to the contents of a conversation Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel reportedly had with Blago, also before U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald busted the governor for allegedly hawking Obama's seat to the highest bidder.
Valerie Jarrett, Barack's confidante, had by then withdrawn. Rahm reportedly told Blago he should choose from one of three names: Duckworth, state Comptroller Dan Hynes and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky. Rahm then reportedly called back to add Lisa Madigan.
All four are white. Conspicuously missing from Rahm's list were all four black candidates: Jackson, Davis, Jones and Burris. Are Blago or his people all lying? The truth is on Fitzgerald's tapes.
As Gregory pressed Reid, whose re-election in 2010 in Nevada is no sure thing, the majority leader suggested his feet were not so set in concrete and he may be open to a deal with Burris:
"I'm an old trial lawyer. There's always room to negotiate."
The deal being talked about is that Reid may let Burris take the seat if he agrees not to run in 2010. For the fear Democrats have is that no black male in Illinois can for sure hold Barack's seat.
Now, if any such deal is what Reid has in mind, one hopes Burris will slap it away. He has as much right to be in the Senate as Harry Reid does. And for Burris to enter that body as a professed lame-duck would mean that not only would he be last in seniority, he will have neutered himself.
Reporters need to get to the bottom of this. Did Reid and Rahm convey to Blagojevich that Jackson, Davis, Jones and Burris were all unacceptable? Or is the governor's office putting out malicious lies against Rahm and Reid? Again, the truth is on the tapes. And the ball is in Blago's court, as Reid has all but openly called him a liar.
Incidentally, can one imagine the firestorm if Mitch McConnell, GOP leader, was reported to have called members of the Republican National Committee and told them all the candidates for party chair were acceptable, except for Ken Blackwell of Ohio and Michael Steele of Maryland, the two African-Americans?
McConnell would suffer the fate of Trent Lott, the GOP leader who in 2002 had to resign his post over a toast to 100-year-old Strom Thurmond. Lott observed that Strom had run for president on the Dixiecrat ticket in 1948, that Mississippi had voted for him and that, had Strom been elected, we might not have all these problems.
Lott was maliciously accused of endorsing the segregationist stand Strom had run on, 54 years before, though Lott never voted for segregation, and Strom's voting record had been consistent for decades with that of other Southern conservatives.
Al Gore, whose father, Sen. Albert Gore Sr., stood beside Strom and voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, called Lott's remarks racist and urged his censure by the Senate. Let us see if the media, and his colleagues, are as tough on Reid as they were on Lott.