Roland Burris may not have many friends, but he doesn't have much to lose. He's 71, so doesn't have to consider how the fight over his place in the Senate might affect his electability down the road. His Senate appointment revived a moribund political career, so it's not as if he'd be favored for some other office if he gave up the seat. He's the only African-American in the Senate, and in Harry Reid he faces a leader who's already backed down against him once, rather than alienating the African-American community. So according to a source close to Burris, he's not going anywhere:
Embattled Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) has not considered resigning — at least not yet — a source familiar with his situation said late Friday, as calls for Burris to consider such a move were being issued by high-ranking Democrats, including the administration of President Barack Obama.
“Resigning has not been an option discussed,” this source said. “Who knows what’s going to happen over the weekend? Anything can change.”
Burris, this source said, is currently behind closed doors considering his next move. The Senator believes he has been honest and above board, but feels he is suffering in part because of a faulty communications strategy in relation to how he has dealt with this latest scandal...
According to the source familiar with the situation, Burris did not purposely withhold the information that Blagojevich had asked him to raise campaign funds for him — the Senator said he tried to do so but was unsuccessful. Rather, Burris in good faith simply reported this information to the state as his own review of past events came to light.
“He filed the second affidavit voluntarily. He offered more information upon reviewing the situation,” this source said.
Burris' account is nonsense. Is there anyone who thinks it remotely possible that Burris simply forgot he had tried to raise money for Blagojevich - and had promised to do so during a conversation about the Senate seat? If he were any other Member of the Senate, such an excuse would be insufficient to protect him from expulsion.
But Burris isn't any Senator, he's the body's only African-American. And African-American leaders are pushing to make sure that Obama's seat stays in the hands of an African-American. As Chicago Sun Times columnist Laura Washington says "I think there are many people who believe that this is all part of an attempt to make sure that the seat does not remain in black hands... Get Roland Burris out of the way, and then someone white will take it over."
If Burris refuses to step aside - and as I point out, he has little to lose - then Senate Democrats will be loath to expel him without the solid backing of the African-American community. That means they'll have to have a strong case against Burris, and they'll probably need a commitment from Illinois Governor Quinn that he will appoint another African-American to the seat. Even the people of Illinois might get so disgusted with this farce as to give a Republican a chance to win the seat in 2010.
Right now Harry Reid is likely pursuing a two-part plan behind the scenes:
- identify all the carrots and sticks available to get Burris to resign (maybe there's some lucrative SEIU job Burris is qualified to fill?); and,
- try to build support in the Congressional Black Caucus for expelling Burris.
If nothing else, it seems Reid might just have learned not to make absolute promises that he's forced to renege on later. Baby steps.
Note - Illinicon makes an excellent point in the comments:
Gov. Quinn also reconfirmed his support for a special election to fill the seat and the Republicans have a bill to do just that, so I doubt the appointment of another african-american is going to work.
Pass the popcorn.