WASHINGTON -- When President-elect Barack Obama visited Capitol Hill on Monday to meet with congressional leaders, he huddled with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and the subject of Gov. Blagojevich's controversial appointment of Roland Burris to fill Obama's vacant Senate seat came up.
Obama's message, a Democratic source told me, was that the nation is facing a lot of problems, Illinois needs someone in the Senate seat, the commotion over Burris is a distraction, and an amicable solution needs to be found.
And here is what emerged: The Senate Democrats backed down from their vow not to seat anyone appointed by Blagojevich, who is accused, among other crimes, of trying to sell Obama's seat. Burris pulled back his demand to be seated immediately and agreed to a road map laid out by Reid and Sen. Dick Durbin, the assistant majority leader, that should lead to Burris securing the seat.
"I'm happy," a beaming Burris said at a press conference in a hotel near the Capitol. Burris met Wednesday morning with Reid, whom he had never met, in Reid's office in the Capitol with Durbin, who has been friends with Burris for decades.
After Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9, all of the Democratic senators signed a letter stating they would reject any Blagojevich appointee. Obama backed them up.
Talking to reporters Wednesday, Reid reminded everyone that the letter came out after Blagojevich was quoted on wiretaps calling the vacant seat "'a f- - - - - - gold mine, I've got to get anything I can out of it.' How are we supposed to react? We reacted in a very reasonable way," Reid said.
"Now, since then, we have had the opportunity to see if there can be any transparency in this. We know that the state of Illinois is entitled to representation, but until we remove the cloud from this Blagojevich nomination, we cannot move forward. And I think it's a pretty easy hurdle to get over, if in fact we can show that there's -- through the transparency that we believe must exist, because the senator from Illinois has to satisfy not only us but the people of Illinois that this is a fair deal. And that's what we're working on right now," Reid said.
Senate Democrats also came to believe they don't have much of a legal leg to stand on. And racial politics intruded to the point where it was better to try to seat Burris than to stand on technicalities.
Before Blagojevich was arrested, Burris floated his name for the appointment. His name was never taken seriously. Obama's preferred list never included Burris, and the governor never brought him up.
Said Burris, savoring the turn of events, "They didn't even mention my name. I mean, I -- I didn't even show up anywhere."