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By Robert Farley January 18, 2009

The Democratic Shift on Roland Burris

"This is not about Mr. (Roland)  Burris; it is about the integrity of a governor accused of attempting to sell this United States Senate seat. Under these circumstances, anyone appointed by Gov. (Rod) Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated."

Statement from U.S. Senate Democratic Caucus headed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Dec. 30, 2008

" We have spoken to Mr. Burris to let him know that he is now the senator-designate from Illinois and as such, will be accorded all the rights and privileges of a senator-elect.

 “We congratulate Senator-designee Burris on his appointment, and we look forward to working with him in the 111th Congress.”

Statement from Reid and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, Jan. 13, 2009

So how did embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s pick to fill Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat go from — in Reid’s words — a “tainted appointment” to one welcomed to the Senate as a “colleague and a friend"? Suffice to say some things changed in the two weeks between these statements.

The first statement came as Blagojevich defiantly appointed Burris, despite charges that the governor had attempted to trade the appointment for personal gain. Although there was no suggestion that Burris was ever involved in Blagojevich’s scheme, Senate Democratic leaders headed by Reid considered any appointment from Blagojevich “tainted” and vowed to block it.

Reid explained the Senate Democrats’ initial hard line in a news conference on Jan. 7.

“The reason Barack Obama joined with us in the first letter and certainly the statements made subsequent to that, that this nomination is tainted, because if you know anything about this, it doesn’t look very good.

“Blagojevich, who was arrested at his home, going to work one morning, for trying to sell the office. We’ve seen, time and time again, in print and before the electronic media, the crude language of Blagojevich, saying this is an ‘effin gold mine, I’ve got to get anything I can out of it.’

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“How are we supposed to react? We reacted in a very reasonable way.”

But cracks in Reid’s seemingly entrenched stance began to appear just days after the first statement.

In a Meet the Press interview on Jan. 4, host David Gregory asked if there weren’t “room here to negotiate and actually seat Burris.” Reid responded, “I’m an old trial lawyer. There’s always room to negotiate.”

Legally, a few things fell Burris’ way. For one, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the appointment was valid. Another hurdle was cleared when Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White wrote a letter validating the appointment. Senate Democratic leaders had initially pinned some of their legal opposition to the Burris appointment on the fact that White had not signed off on the appointment.

In addition, Burris appeared before the Illinois House Committee on Impeachment and testified that he had never offered Blogojevich anything in return for his appointment.

Senate Democratic leaders also found themselves facing mounting pressure from other Democrats, particularly the Congressional Black Caucus, to seat Burris.

Senate Democratic leadership relented and eventually backed Burris. He was sworn in on Jan. 15, and, like Obama was, will be the only African-American serving in the U.S. Senate.

“There are many paths to the United States Senate,” Reid said from the floor on Jan. 15. “It is fair to say that the path that brought our new colleague from Illinois to us was unique.

"Senator Burris, on behalf of all senators, we welcome you as a colleague and a friend."

Whether political pressure, a realization of legal inevitability or the change in Burris' credentials was the tipping point, the fact is that Reid and other Senate Democratic leaders drew a line in the sand and then, two weeks later, did an about-face. Think of it this way: Who wants to bet Republicans won’t use video clips of Reid’s earlier statements when the Burris seat comes up for election in 2010? We call Reid’s position a Full Flop.

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The Democratic Shift on Roland Burris

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