Harry Reid


With less than 30 hours left before federal funding runs out, it’s time to start really worrying that we’re going to experience the first partial government shutdown since 1995.

Budget negotiations will continue tonight during a White House meeting between President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and I hope they agree on a funding bill that both political parties can accept. I don’t know what to expect, though; I’m not sure whether they actually will reach an agreement in time to avoid a partial government shutdown.

This is serious stuff, but I think an injection of humor is needed right now. Fortunately, TBS broadcast a 2007 episode of “The Office” today wherein Darryl asks Michael for a pay raise. During the negotiation meeting, Michael loses the upper hand (if he ever had it) when Darryl notices he is wearing a woman’s suit. That prompts the following reflection from Michael:

“Negotiations are all about controlling things, about being in the driver’s seat, and you make one tiny mistake, you’re dead. I made one tiny mistake: I wore a woman’s clothes.”

Keep that advice in mind tonight, guys. Don’t wear women’s clothing to the negotiation meeting. Not only would you lose control of the negotiations, but it might make Boehner cry, too.

Actor Steve Carell’s 7-year run as Michael Scott comes to an end on Thursday, April 28, and “The Office” will miss him. Will Ferrell’s four-episode arc as Michael’s temporary replacement, Deangelo Vickers, begins next week. Michael’s permanent replacement will be revealed during the season finale on Thursday, May 19.

Let’s hope that if a government shutdown takes place, it’s over before then.

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.

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.

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.

For a fleeting minute today, I thought the Burris Gambit worked.

Before the smoke clears from the latest political fire started by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, it may turn out the Burris Gambit did work.

Former Illinois Attorney General and Comptroller Roland Burris knew he wasn’t on the short list of potential successors to President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat. But he still wanted to be a U.S. senator without the hassle of running another statewide election, so Burris seized upon his last, best chance to get the job within days of Blagojevich’s Dec. 9 arrest on political corruption charges. Burris organized a press conference to try convincing people he would be the best choice to replace Obama because he was untainted by the pay-to-play allegations made against the governor.

At that time, I thought the Burris Gambit smacked of just that – a calculated political move made by a veteran member of the Chicago political machine. However, I didn’t think Burris actually had a chance of being named Obama’s successor. After serving as state comptroller from 1979 t0 1991 and Illinois attorney general from 1991 to 1995, Burris had all but disappeared from the political scene other than to occasionally run for office and lose. Over the years, Burris unsuccessfully ran for governor three times and U.S. Senate once. He even tried to do the impossible by attempting to unseat Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in 1995.

I suppose Burris, 71, wanted to write a better ending to his political story. He also may have thrown his hat into the ring just to get a better government pension. Regardless of his intent, he certainly didn’t want to lose another election.

“What I wanted to be is a senator and not a candidate at this point,” Burris said on MSNBC late this afternoon.

Despite his repeated statements trying to convince us otherwise, Burris is not untainted in this matter, and not only because of the simple fact he was appointed by Blagojevich. Burris has been a Blagojevich ally in the past – Burris was vice-chairman of the governor’s transition team in 2002, and has donated thousands of dollars to Blagojevich’s campaigns – and thus it will not be surprising if Burris’s name turns up on the Blagogate wiretap recordings.

Whether Burris actually gets to be a U.S. senator for the next two years remains to be seen. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said he won’t certify Blagojevich’s appointment, but I don’t think that would hold up in court. Harry Reid, Dick Durbin and the rest of the U.S. Senate Democratic Caucus say they won’t seat anyone appointed by Blagojevich, but that may not be legal, either. In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the House of Representatives could not refuse to seat Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., a New York Democrat accused of misusing travel funds and putting his wife on the payroll. So Illinois may be stuck with Burris as its next U.S. senator.

If that is the case, Burris surely will be an ineffective senator. Not only will he be scorned by his fellow senators, he will be eaten alive by the media. Burris barely survived today’s news conference, which was more like a circus than a presser. He will be hounded by questions of illegitimacy until he steps away from this mess, is forced out of it, or fulfills the two years left in Obama’s vacated term – whichever comes first.

One thing is for sure: Burris brought the intense media scrutiny onto himself by accepting Blagojevich’s appointment, even though the questions of illegitimacy are not because of Burris’s political track record or racial background (as insinuated by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush).

“This is about Roland Burris as a United States senator, not about the governor who makes the appointment,” Blagojevich said during his press conference today.

Wrong again, Blago. This whole mess has everything to do with you.