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Robert Farley
By Robert Farley January 20, 2009

Reid flips on Senate Democrats seating Burris

"This is not about Mr. 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. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated."

Dec. 30 statement from Senate Democratic Caucus, which is headed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

"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 Roland Burris, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's pick to replace Barack Obama, go from being what Reid described as a "tainted appointment" to "colleague and a friend"?

Suffice to say some things changed in the two weeks between these statements.

The first statement came from Reid and the Democratic caucus after Blagojevich defiantly appointed Burris despite charges from federal prosecutors that he had tried to trade the seat for personal gain. Although there was no suggestion that Burris was ever involved in Blagojevich's scheme, Reid and other Senate Democratic leaders said they 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."

Reid cited comments that federal prosecutors have alleged Blagojevich used, saying the Senate would be "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," Reid said.

But Reid quickly began to soften his stance a few days later.

In a Meet the Press interview on Jan. 4, host David Gregory asked if there was "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. Senate Democratic leaders had initially pinned some of their legal opposition to the Burris appointment on the fact that Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White had not signed off on the appointment, but that fizzled when White wrote a letter validating 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.

Also, Senate Democratic leaders 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, crossed it.

It's such a reversal that it's a safe bet that video clips of Reid's earlier statements will be used in Republican TV ads when the Burris seat comes up for election in 2010. On the Flip-O-Meter, we call that a Full Flop.

Our Sources

U.S. Senate Web site, "Press release: Senate Democratic Leadership Statement on Gov. Blagojevich's Appointment of Roland Burris to the vacant U.S. Senate seat from Illinois," Dec. 30, 2008

Washington Post, "Blagojevich Makes Senate Pick Despite Democrats' Objections,"   by Paul Kane, Dec. 31, 2008

Washington Post,  "Burris to take seat in Senate as credentials standoff ends," by Shailagh Murray, Jan. 13, 2009

CQ, Transcript: Senate Majority Leader remarks opening the 111th Congress, as released by Sen. Reid’s office, accessed via, Jan. 6, 2009

CQ, Transcript: News conference on Democratic priorities for the 111th Congress, accessed via Jan. 7, 2009

NBC, Transcript of Meet the Press interview with Reid, accessed via Nexis, Jan. 2, 2009

Senate Democratic Communication Center, News release: Reid Statement on Roland Burris, Jan. 15, 2008

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Reid flips on Senate Democrats seating Burris

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