ENPR: Blagojevich causes Democratic Headaches With Senate Appointment


  1. President-Elect Barack Obama is riding soaring popularity and a well-managed transition, and he has so far avoided any stain from the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D).
  2. Blagojevich’s decision to appoint a Senate replacement for Obama could create a mess for Senate Democrats. Republicans don’t have to do anything here, as Democrats are sniping at one another.
  3. President George W. Bush has mostly faded into the background. He’s remained very quiet even on the renewed combat in the Middle East, and all eyes are on Obama.

Obama Transition

Warren: Obama continues to earn high marks in public approval polls and with the media.

  1. Obama’s first major blow to his base was his selection of evangelical pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. Warren supported California’s Proposition 8 this past year, prohibiting the gay marriages that had been created by the state’s supreme court.
  2. The disappointment and expressions of betrayal among his base show just how that base misread their candidate. Obama, like running mate Joe Biden, explicitly stated that he opposed gay marriage. Also, Obama is a professed Christian. Obam’s base’s being shocked by his picking Warren suggests they assumed these beliefs professed by Obama were merely masks to be dropped upon election.
  3. There is no real damage to Obama in the anti-Warren backlash. It will create an unpleasant distraction to his inauguration, but it also looks like a gesture of inclusion to the huge swaths of the country Warren represents.

Senate 2008/2009

Illinois: Arrested Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) made life a little more difficult for congressional Democrats by appointing former Illinois Atty. Gen. Roland Burris (D) to the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Obama’s resignation last month. Don’t be surprised if Burris becomes a senator.

The obvious tension was made explicit by Rep. Bobby Rush (D) (whom Obama, while a state senator, tried to knock off in a 2000 primary), who pointed out that there are no black senators and implicitly likened the Democrats’ talk of refusing to seat Burris to "lynch[ing]."

While the talk from Senate Democrats is firmly against seating Burris, there is reason to believe he could be seated. First, senators being accused of lynching could back away from their blanket rejection of any Blagojevich appointee because Burris has not been linked to Blagojevich’s alleged attempt to sell the Senate seat. Opposing a nominee because of questions about the nominator is legally absurd.

Second, there may be no teeth to the pledge by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White (D) to block the appointment. White has said he won’t certify the appointment, but state law plainly requires White to certify it. Blagojevich could easily take White to court and win.

Even if a majority of senators voted not to seat Burris, there’s no guarantee the Supreme Court wouldn’t overrule the Senate. While the Constitution seems to grant each house of Congress this right, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the House 40 years ago when that chamber refused to seat Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D-N.Y.) because he faced corruption charges. The high court held that the chamber was allowed to judge only the qualifications—i.e., age, residency, citizenship—of the members, not their moral fitness for office.

Given Blagojevich’s defiance, if Burris adopts the same stance, we could see an extraordinary confrontation near the Senate floor next week, involving Capitol Police and Burris. If that seems possible, Senate Democrats will back down in favor of some compromise.

If Burris is not seated, for whatever reason, that leaves the Democrats short one vote, which is significant in relation to filibusters. Even if there are only 99 senators, a cloture motion requires 60 votes.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Blagojevich offered the appointment first to Rep. Danny Davis (D), who declined on the grounds of the ethical cloud. Davis has said he wants the seat, but he didn’t want to take it under these circumstances.

Minnesota: Each day, it looks more and more likely that comedian Al Franken (D) is going to be a U.S. senator. After the counting of all the disputed ballots, Franken stood about 50 votes ahead as of Wednesday morning. This was before counting the approximately 1,350 absentee ballots that were rejected as improper on Election Day but no reason could be given for the rejection during the recount.

Coleman has his finger on the trigger of a lawsuit. With the current results, Franken has won on the strength of ballots that nobody has seen—the 133 missing ballots that the state canvassing board decided to count, which gave Franken a net of 46 votes. The previously rejected, soon-to-be-counted absentee ballots, however, will probably pad that Franken lead, possibly by a few hundred votes.

It seems unlikely now that Coleman can win without a legal battle, and so it seems unlikely Coleman will be sworn in next week. Will the seat be vacant at the start of the 111th Congress? Maybe for a few days, but Minnesota’s secretary of state is likely to certify Franken’s win shortly, and a Coleman lawsuit won’t prevent that. If Franken’s win is within the missing-ballot margin, Senate Republicans could raise a fuss, but there’s no way they would block his seating.

But, if there is a vacancy, however brief, Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) could appoint an interim replacement. Given Pawlenty’s national ambitions, such an appointment would be charged with peril and promise. National Democrats would be happy to try to ding Pawlenty’s reputation over this mess.

New York: Speculation continues to swirl over the replacement for Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Obama’s pick for secretary of State, with Caroline Kennedy‘s (D) name rising and falling. So far, it’s all speculation. There are no polls, because there is only one voter—Gov. David Paterson (D), and he has been inscrutable so far, saying he won’t make any announcement until the seat is vacant. Clinton has said she won’t resign as senator until she’s confirmed to the Cabinet.

Senate 2010

Kansas: Sen. Sam Brownback (R) reconfirmed that, in keeping with his pledge to term-limit himself, he will not seek a third term in the Senate after his current stint ends in 2010. Brownback is rumored to be eyeing a run for governor. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) is precluded from a third term by state term limits, so that seat is open in 2010, too.

It’s possible Brownback and Sebelius could trade jobs, as she would start off as the Democrats’ frontrunner if she entered the contest. Will Obama name her to an administration post in 2010, instead, or would that be her consolation prize were she to lose? One-term Rep. Nancy Boyda (D), defeated for reelection last month, could also make a run for Brownback’s seat.

On the Republican side, Rep. Jerry Moran (R) has already entered the Senate race, and he used his easy reelection this year to build his statewide reputation and to fill his coffers. All money left over from his 2008 House race can be transferred to a 2010 Senate run. Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R) is also actively exploring the Senate option.

Democrats haven’t won a Senate seat here since the Great Depression, so any Democrat would start off as the underdog. The civil war within the state Republican Party gives Democrats a chance. Sebelius was first elected after conservative Tim Shallenburger (R) defeated a moderate in the primary, and moderate Republicans sided with Sebelius.