My friend Tom Elia at the New Editor raised this question in an email and it bears looking into.
The fact is, if this mess with Burris had been made public back on February 5 when the Illinois senator submitted his “corrected” affadavit to the Democratic Majority Leader, there is a pretty good chance that the Illinois senator would not have been able to vote on the stimulus bill in the senate on the 13th.
Why? Because pressure would have been building - as it is now - for the “lying little sneak” to resign his seat. It seems surreal but Roland Burris has now changed his story about contacts with Governor Blagojevich’s henchmen about the senate seat at least 4 times - twice yesterday alone.
If he had been forced to resign in a similar time period that is shaping up now, there would have been no 60th vote on the stimulus bill in the senate, no cloture, and the bill would have been sent back to conference.
So which Democrats knew of this affidavit and why wasn’t it made public immediately? Burris says he sent the affidavit to the chairman of the impeachment committee who then promptly sat on it until the Chicago Sun Times got wind of the story at which point Burris himself gave it to the newspaper. The committee chairman was Barbara Flynn Currie, House Majority Leader.
Barbara Flynn Currie has represented the 25th Congressional district in the Illinois House since 1979. That district includes Hyde Park - former home for many years of President Barack Obama.
So what does Rep. Currie say about the affadavit? Not much:
Currie acknowledged receiving Burris’ letter but said she was unfamiliar with its contents.
After being read Burris’ account of his dealings with Robert Blagojevich, Currie said: “Very odd. I don’t know there is anything actionable here, but I would like to check the record.”
“Unfamiliar with its contents?” And we’re expected to believe that the second ranking Democrat in the Illinois House never opened a letter from the junior senator from her state, that there was no cover letter explaining what was inside, and that Burris’s lawyer had not contacted Currie’s office to see what she was going to do?
The chances that there were other Democrats - local and national - who knew of this “corrected” affidavit and what was in it would seem to be pretty good. What would be your first move as a state party leader if you discovered that your junior senator was basically a liar? Or, even putting the best face on it, was going to be involved in a huge political firestorm as a result of a convenient memory loss?
I would think a call to Illinois’ senior senator Dick Durbin might be in order, don’t you? Durbin, the #2 Democrat in the senate, just might have mentioned it in passing to Harry Reid, wouldn’t you think?
Speculation, yes. And logical? You decide.
The point being, Democrats were willing to sit on this story until the stimulus vote was safely passed. The vote in the senate was Friday the 13th and the Sun Times story appeared the next day. But what if the story had broken on February 6th, the day after Burris says he gave the letter to Currie? The story would have been vying with the stim bill for attention and the calls now emanating from Republican quarters in Illinois for Burris to step down would have been huge news. Who knows what national Republicans would have done? They very well may have demanded Burris recuse himself from voting until the matter was cleared up - a perfectly reasonable request.
If that had happened - or if Burris had been pressured to step down as he still may do - there would have been no 60th vote for cloture.
This would seem to be a very powerful incentive for Democrats to cover up Burris’s lies, keeping the country, the people of Illinois, and the opposition in the dark about a matter that, if known at the time of his confirmation by the senate, may have resulted in Burris being rejected.
So what to do with Burris? Here’s Harry Reid prior to Burris’s testimony before the impeachment hearing:
After days in which Senate leaders had demonstrated determined resistance to Burris’ appointment to the Senate by scandal-tainted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Reid praised Burris as “candid and forthright.” And he suggested the testimony Burris is to give Thursday before the state legislature’s impeachment committee could be crucial to his prospects of gaining the seat.
“He’s going to go answer any other questions they might have. He’s not trying to avoid any responsibility and trying to hide anything,” said Reid (D-Nev.) “Once that’s done, we’ll be in a different position and see what we are going to do.”
If that testimony - now under investigation for perjury - was “crucial to his prospects of gaining the seat” what say you now, Harry Reid? You have a sitting senator, appointed by a sleazy governor, who quite possibly perjured himself at a hearing you yourself deemed “crucial” to a decision on his fitness for office. Does the Democratic party stand for ethics and transparency? Did you know of Burris’s problems with the truth and sit on the story until after the stimulus bill was passed?
There are few in Illinois who believe Burris outside of the predictable support he is receiving from the African American community. The Chicago Tribune editorial board blog, Vox Pop, is calling on the senator to resign:
The hole just gets deeper and deeper, and Burris keeps digging. He has no credibility.
And many Democrats are losing theirs.
Illinois House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), who chaired the impeachment panel, sat on Burris’ amended testimony for more than a week.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid vowed that no Senate appointment by the disgraced Rod Blagojevich would stand—until Blagojevich appointed Burris.
They told Burris to go to the impeachment committee and testify fully and truthfully. And he did not.
And now what? “He went before the state Legislature and he obviously convinced them, but we’ll have to see… I hope he didn’t try to avoid or mislead anyone…” Reid said Tuesday. Durbin is on an overseas trip and hasn’t bothered to comment on the tomfoolery back home. Late Tuesday came word that the Senate Ethics Committee has started a preliminary inquiry.
Finally, remember that Illinois Democrats failed to do right by the people and schedule a special election for this Senate vacancy. If they had done that, voters today might be weighing the lost credibility of candidate Burris, instead of expressing their disgust with Senator Burris.
Disgraceful. Disgraceful all around.
There’s only one honorable action for Burris: resign.
Oh that this all would have been happening last week instead of this week. What might have been…
From commenter Aurelius:
Wasn’t the Senate cloture vote for the stimulus package 61-36 (http://www.salon.com/politics/war_room/2009/02/09/stimulus_vote/)? So even with Burris out or incapacitated the vote in favor presumably would be 60. That’s still meets the supermajority requirement. Say if Burris resigned and no one was appointed immediately. Then there would be two Senate seats vacant and the supermajority requirement would be reduced to 59 (3/5 of all senators). So Burris resigning even could be a strategy to pass the bill. The only argument that works is whether the problems with Burris make it politically dangerous for the majority party to press cloture and passage of the stimulus.
Ah - you are correct - I think. And thinking about it, if it was that desperate of a situation, they probably would have wheeled Ted Kennedy in to vote.
Still, when Reid found out about Burris’s lying - if he found out and I think it a good bet he did - the senate vote was in doubt. So the motivation to cover up still would have been there.
Dan Riehl sends along this old Jim Lindgren post about House Majority Leader Currie. Lindgren is a constituent and thinks quite highly over her. Indeed, Currie has apparently marched to a reformist tune during her career.
But this is a partisan political matter. And, as Lindgren points out, Currie is actually friends with the president. It is not beyond imagining that Currie sat on Burris’s letter so as not to make any trouble for her friend’s efforts to get his stim bill through the senate. Nor is it impossible to imagine Currie ringing up Senator Durkin and relaying the contents of Burris’s “corrected” affidavit and warning of big trouble ahead.
Burris may or may not have affected the outcome of the vote if this scandal had broken a week earlier. But the very fact that the letter was kept quiet shows that the Democrats knew it contained political dynamite and that at the very least, it would have complicated matters in the senate. Reid had no idea when Burris handed in this letter if he had enough votes for cloture. Reason enough to cover up the truth from the people of Illinois and the GOP opposition.