Dick Durbin


This week Washingtonian magazine released its “Best and Worst of Congress” list that appears in its September issue, and both of our U.S. senators placed prominently.

Not surprisingly, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin did better in the polling than U.S. Sen. Roland Burris, who was appointed to the Senate by then-Gov. (and now convicted felon) Rod Blagojevich.

In the survey of administrative aides, press secretaries, legislative directors and other congressional staffers, Washingtonian found that Durbin is considered the most eloquent member of the U.S. Senate, as well as its top workhorse. Burris, on the other hand, was named the Senate’s most clueless member and the third-most likely senator to be involved in a scandal. (Fortunately, time is quickly running out for Burris to get embroiled in another scandal – though the Blagojevich one is already enough.)

As of this writing, I haven’t heard either senator’s response to the rankings, but I can imagine them. Durbin, for instance, might play off his ranking as the Senate’s top workhorse and channel Lou Gehrig, who was known as baseball’s “Iron Horse.”

“Today,” Durbin might say, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Well, besides my fellow Illinoisan, U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, who was named the House’s top male hottie and third-best dresser in the same survey.”

Microphone reverb would be added for effect, of course.

But now that we know Durbin is considered the most eloquent member of the Senate (Who knew?), I now have higher expectations for his speechifying.   And when I think of eloquent, I think of Shakespearean-style soliloquies.

“O, what a rogue this news inspires me to be,

Always second to one, Barack or Reid,

But in a dream of passion, I come out on top,

Obama’s now president, and Reid may be out,

Should Harry lose re-election, I shall not weep much,

For the next move is obvious, I have a hunch,

The Senate’s best speaker would be majority leader!”

As for Burris, he is known for his brazen disregard for reality and tendency to refer to himself in the third person. He probably would call himself a visionary and try to make his first-place ranking sound like an award rather than a raspberry. Then he would have it etched in the side of his mausoleum.

Indeed, his “acceptance speech” might go something like this:

“People said I was either crazy or divinely directed. I accept the latter. I believe, without a doubt, that I am predestined to be a role model.”

It’s not like that is too far-fetched – Burris actually uttered that quote to the Chicago Sun-Times when he unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1994.

Actually, considering the ranking Burris received, I’d love to hear Crazy Uncle Roland paraphrase some quotes from the Alicia Silverstone movie, “Clueless.” Instead, we probably would hear something like this:

“My friends in the media,” he might say, “I would just like to state that the attitude in the Senate is a disgrace. I mean, all this nonsense about Roland Burris might be corrupt, Roland Burris is clueless, let’s shun Roland Burris. I doubt any of them are cleaner than Roland Burris.”

And he might even be right about the holier-than-thou attitude directed toward him by his fellow senators. But, what Burris has always failed to grasp is this: He makes it so easy to cast stones at him.

Burris, however, can always take solace in this fact: Two months from now, we won’t have him to kick around anymore.

This column was also published in the Sept. 2 issue of Ottawa Delivered.

Breaking news from the Chicago Tribune‘s Web site:

Legendary Chicago journalist John Callaway died Tuesday evening in Racine, Wis., his wife confirmed.

Callaway, the  longtime host of WTTW-Channel 11’s news program “Chicago Tonight,” died of a heart attack about 6:30 p.m. after growing faint in a Racine store, said his wife, Sandra Callaway.

He was 72 years old.

I got to see Callaway operate up close once, when he moderated a televised debate at my alma mater, Elmhurst College. The debate was between the final four candidates to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Paul Simon: Democrats Dick Durbin (who ended up winning his first term as a U.S. senator) and Pat Quinn (who replaced Rod Blagojevich as Illinois governor earlier this year) and Republicans Al Salvi (a wealthy right-winger) and then-Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra. Callaway’s successor as host of “Chicago Tonight,” Phil Ponce, was working the aisles that night, bringing a microphone to audience members with questions for the candidates.

For those of you unfamiliar with “Chicago Tonight,” the news program is sort of like the Windy City’s local version of “Meet the Press.” Callaway certainly was Chicago’s version of Tim Russert. He was consistently fair in his analysis, reporting and the way he questioned guests. He will be missed.

I find it somewhat amusing that Illinois’ senior U.S. senator, Dick Durbin, says he is troubled by the FBI-wiretapped conversation between Roland Burris, who was interested in being appointed Illinois’ junior U.S. senator, and Robert Blagojevich, the fundraising brother of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Durbin doesn’t think Burris gave fully truthful answers to the Illinois House impeachment committee and also won’t back Burris if he runs for a full senatorial term.

I find this amusing because when this debacle began with Rod Blagojevich’s arrest last December, Durbin was quick to call for a special election to fill President Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat. Durbin later backed off that call, as did other Illinois Democratic leaders who feared a Republican could win the seat in a special election. Then, when the governor called their bluff and appointed Burris to the seat, Durbin and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said they would refuse to seat Burris because his appointment was tainted. But they backed off that threat because they feared political retribution by their black constituencies.

So forgive me if I find anything Durbin says about Burris worthless. Although I can’t wait until Burris is out of office, I sort of smiled inside last night when Burris told ABC 7 News reporter Charles Thomas that Durbin should “back off.”

And then there is this beauty of a quote from Burris today: “Please accept Roland Burris’s comments rather than Sen. Durbin’s.”

Actually, I prefer not to accept the comments of either senator, because neither man says anything about this subject that can be taken to heart.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin wins the Bread Line award for best quote about former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s indictment on 16 felony counts:

“We can only hope the former governor will not view this indictment as a green light for another publicity tour. Rod Blagojevich deserves his day in court, but the people of Illinois deserve a break.”

I fully expect Blagojevich will not heed Durbin’s advice.

For the second time since former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested last December, current Gov. Pat Quinn backed off from his position calling for a special election to fill President Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat. By doing so, he may have dashed any real chance he had to retain the governship after next year’s election.

After then-Gov. Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 for, among other things, allegedly trying to sell Obama’s vacated seat to the highest bidder, Quinn was among the chorus of voices calling for a special election to select the state’s junior U.S. senator instead of letting the tainted governor pick someone. Soon he and other high-ranking Democratic officials backed away from their calls for a special election, deciding it was better to make sure a Democratic governor picks the next senator rather than allow any chance of a Republican winning the election.

That, of course, resulted in Blagojevich appointing Roland Burris to the seat, and now the controversy surrounding Burris has many people calling for Burris’s resignation. Since Burris won’t resign, Quinn once again joined the renewed collective call for a special election, which Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says would be a legal way to remove temporary Sen. Roland Burris from office before the 2010 election.

But that was last week. Today, Quinn changed his mind again after meeting with a group of black elected leaders.

“I think there should be a special election. You cannot have a special election unless the incumbent resigns. The incumbent has said he will not resign,” Quinn said.

Quinn said he needs to focus on state budgetary issues rather than continue wasting time on Burris. He also said his decision to back away from his call for a special election has nothing to do with black elected leaders saying Quinn and other politicians risk losing the support of the black community if they keep hammering on Burris.

Yeah, right.

Quinn and other white politicians (U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin comes to mind) are so afraid of losing support among black voters that they cave in to black leaders’ demands. It is sad to see the race card continue to be played with such persuasive force in a time when President Obama’s election was supposed to help our country move past such things.

If Republicans keep calling for Burris’s resignation, they may have found their ticket to regaining the keys to the governor’s mansion. But they likely will still have to contend with Madigan, who hasn’t stepped in anything unsavory during the Blagojevich and Burris controversies. Her lack of backtracking on anything she said seems to put her in prime shape for a gubernatorial run next year. Quinn surely will try to hold onto the position, but I think by twice backing off his calls for a special election, he gave his political opponents something they can successfully use against him.

How about this for a Valentine’s Day gift to journalists:

U.S. Sen. Roland Burris changed his story about whether anyone associated with now-former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich solicited him for a campaign contribution in exchange for being named President Obama’s successor in the U.S. Senate. After previously denying that anything of the sort took place, he suddenly recalls he had three conversations with Robert Blagojevich, the former governor’s brother and head of the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund, wherein he was asked for “assistance in fundraising for Governor Blagojevich.” The first conversation was in October 2008 and the other two were shortly after Obama was elected president.

In an affidavit filed nine days ago with House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, who headed the committee that recommended Gov. Blagojevich’s impeachment, Burris said he told Blagojevich’s brother, “I could not contribute to Governor Blagojevich because it could be viewed as an attempt to curry favor with him regarding his decision to appoint a successor to President Obama.”

Funny how Burris didn’t remember those conversations until after he officially joined the U.S. Senate. And I don’t mean funny ha ha. Burris didn’t mention any of that during his Jan. 8 testimony before the House impeachment committee, even after being specifically asked whether he met with Blagojevich’s brother about the U.S. Senate seat. Perhaps Burris didn’t literally meet with Robert Blagojevich, but his glaring omission sure sounds like perjury to me.

It sounds like perjury to Illinois House Republicans, too. State Rep. Jim Durkin told The Associated Press he and GOP leader Tom Cross will ask for an outside investigation into whether Burris perjured himself during his Jan. 8 testimony. Good for them.

Burris said he “did not donate or help raise a single dollar for the governor from those conversations and would never consider making a donation through a third party.”

If what Burris says is true, that he didn’t make a campaign contribution to Blagojevich, then why didn’t he just say so during the House hearing? He must have worried the truth would somehow hamper his attempt to become a U.S. senator. Telling the whole truth was less important than chiseling the words “U.S. senator” on his “Trail Blazer” mausoleum in Chicago’s Oak Woods Cemetery. Burris had to put on a good show for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Dick Durbin so they would complete their backpedaling from previous statements calling for Burris not to be seated in the Senate.

If an outside investigation concludes that Burris is guilty of perjury, he deserves whatever resulting consequences there may be. If people start calling for Burris to resign his U.S. Senate seat, he should seriously consider it.

It will be interesting to find out if any of the three conversations between Burris and Robert Blagojevich were recorded by the FBI. If so, we may find out Burris still isn’t telling the whole truth.

President-elect Barack Obama vowed Tuesday to veto any move by Congress to block the use of an additional $350 billion in federal bailout funds.

Isn’t it amazing that Obama isn’t even in office yet and already has to threaten a veto to the Congressional leaders of his own political party? Obama is the Democrat with the most political capital to spend, and thus far he generally seems to be using it wisely, yet Democratic leaders in Congress are pushing back at the popular head of their political party.

That probably isn’t a good move by Congressional leaders. It surely is a puzzling one, considering how President George W. Bush pretty much had his way with Congress throughout his two terms – including the past two years with the Democrats in charge – even as Bush’s popularity steadily dropped. It is no coincidence that Congress’s approval rating dropped steadily as well. Congressional Democrats should have felt empowered to stand up to Bush during the past two years, but generally they barked about Bush and his policies without applying any bite.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is the worst offender. He tends to shoot from the hip and talk tough before inevitably changing his mind and making excuses for why he flip-flopped. The latest example of this is the Roland Burris situation. As recently as January 4 on “Meet the Press,” Reid adamantly insisted that Burris would not be seated in the Senate because he was appointed by a governor accused of trying to sell the seat to the highest bidder. But as soon as that situation came to a head two days later, Reid and his second-in-command, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), started backpedaling so fast they fell on their backsides. Now Burris is scheduled to be sworn in as Illinois’ junior senator Thursday.

Reid also did some backpedaling in regard to another topic on the aforementioned episode of “Meet the Press.” Host David Gregory noted that in 2007, Reid said the Iraq war was lost – something no longer considered conventional wisdom thanks to the U.S. troop surge committed that year. There is debate about whether the Iraq war can be “won,” per se, but now that it looks like Reid may have been wrong, he refuses to admit he spoke too soon. Gregory pressed him on this issue and only let him off the hook after it was clear Reid wasn’t going to give a satisfactory answer no matter how bad his runaround sounded.

In the past, Reid has called Bush “a liar,” “a loser” and “the worst president we’ve ever had.” Despite his strong partisan language, Reid always seemed to misplace his backbone whenever Bush wanted something passed through Congress. Yet Reid apparently has no qualms about smack-talking Obama for no good reason. Last week Reid felt compelled to tell us, “If Obama steps over the bounds, I will tell him. … I do not work for Barack Obama. I work with him.”

Technically, Reid is right. He doesn’t work “for” Obama, he works for his constituents. But Reid needs to work “with” Obama to get our country back on track, so why bother making that statement in the first place? Doesn’t Reid care about whether he is perceived to be helping Obama get things done? Perhaps he wants to seem like he has more power than Obama, or at least as much. But the reality is that people will overwhelmingly choose Obama’s side over Reid’s, and for good reason. Obama hasn’t let us down yet; Reid and his House counterpart, Nancy Pelosi, have.

I wonder what Nevada residents think of Reid’s flip-flopping and foot-in-mouth disease. Are they dissatisfied enough to vote Reid out of office next year? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, Reid needs to control his mouth and develop a smooth working relationship with Obama – otherwise the Democrats should seriously consider replacing him as Senate majority leader.

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