Edward McClelland takes questions about Gov. Blagojevich's Senate appointment of Roland Burris.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Dec. 31 2008 1:35 PM

Who's Gonna Stop Him?

Edward McClelland takes your questions about Gov. Blagojevich's Senate appointment.

(Continued from Page 1)

Edward McClelland: Blagojevich has a very expensive defense attorney who had no doubt advised him that stepping down will look like an admission of guilt. Also, he can't afford to step. Unlike Eliot Spitzer, Blagojevich is not independently wealthy. He has to pay his mortgage.

And yes, he is delusional. He's always wanted to president. On the tapes, he talked about appointing himself to the Senate to set up a 2016 run. Even before this scandal, he had a 13 percent approval rating. His response? He was going to get the people of Illinois to "love me again." As much as he loves himself, perhaps?

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Rockville, Md.: Is there any indication that Burris may have been one of the potential candidates referred to in the federal charges against Blagojevich for having offered to pay for the seat?

Edward McClelland: No. Burris is not one of the seven Senate candidates on the tape, which I'm sure was a qualification for the appointment.

Burris did lobby the governor for the job—he even held a press conference to promote himself—but Blagojevich never seriously considered him. Burris was seen as a political has-been, having lost four straight elections since 1994. So while he may not be tainted by involvement in Blagojevich's attempt to sell the Senate seat, he's may not be as high a caliber a senator as we would have gotten if the governor was free to choose anyone he wanted.

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Vienna, Va.: It's crazy to me that there aren't more African American Senators. Is there any chance that one of the other open seats might go to an African American? Or is Burris the only hope?

Edward McClelland: I don't know about the other open Senate seats. But if Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn ascends to the governorship and makes a competing appointment, I'm sure it will be an African-American—maybe Rep. Danny Davis, who was Blagojevich's first choice. The fact is, Illinois has elected two of the three black senators since Reconstruction. That is a matter of great pride here, and some people think it's our role to provide a black senator.

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Charlottesville, Va.: You noted in your story that the Illinois Secretary of State may not certify Burris for the seat—what exactly does that mean and by what grounds would the Secy make that call?

Edward McClelland: I'm not sure that he can legally refuse. The Illinois Constitution says it's his job to endorse the governor's appointments. On the other hand, he's joined the game of legal chicken between Blagojevich and the Senate. Blagojevich is saying, "I dare you to reject my appointee." The Senate is saying, "Oh yeah, go ahead and sue."

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Crofton, Va.: What does this all mean for Jesse Jackson, Jr.? Are his chances at a future Senate run over?

Edward McClelland: I think Jesse Jackson Jr. would have been a hard sell as a Senate candidate to begin with. There was some concern, when open seat was first discussed, that he wouldn't be able to hold it in 2010. Now that he appears to have been bargaining for the seat with Blagojevich, his Senate prospects look even dimmer.

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D.C.: Why do you think Blagojevich picked Burris as opposed to someone else? Is Burris so far beyond reproach that Blago imagines that it helps his case and makes him look more honest? Or is it just that Burris is the only one that would have accepted, for the reasons you discussed above?

Edward McClelland: I think it's a little bit of both. Burris made through 16 years in Springfield without getting into a scandal, which is a huge accomplishment in Illinois. Even Republicans are calling him honest. Also, Burris was hungry to get back into politics, and, unlike other potentials, had nothing to lose. His political career was dead before this.

And of course, he's African-American. That allows Blagojevich to confound the Senate with racial politics, and appeal to blacks in Chicago, who are about the only friends he has left here.

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Insanity: What is taking the Illinois government so long to get Blagojevich out of power? This whole debacle is amazing to me in its inefficiency. You noted earlier that no one has questioned Blago's ability to pardon criminals or sign legislation since he's been charged. I next expect to see him issue an edict that would pardon himself from any future conviction of wrongdoing—and get away with it!

Edward McClelland: As a lawmaking body, the General Assembly has to follow the law. Blagojevich is entitled to due process in impeachment proceedings. If he doesn't get it, he could conceivably sue to prevent his removal. Lt. Gov. Quinn hopes the Senate will convict Blagojevich before Lincoln's 200th birthday, which is Feb. 12. (No one wants to see him on the dais at the Lincoln Library!) That may be soon. Blagojevich's lawyer, Ed Genson, is a master of delay. He kept R. Kelly out of court for six years.

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Washington, D.C.: Any word on what Patrick Fitzgerald thinks about all of this? He's an interesting figure in this investigation—he seems determined not to let Blagojevich get away with his crimes. Has Fitzgerald ever investigated Burris for any reason?

Edward McClelland: Patrick Fitzgerald has never investigated Burris because Burris was out of office long before Fitzgerald arrived.

When Fitzgerald announced the complaint against Blagojevich, I wondered how much the timing had to do with the fact that a Democrat was about to take over the White House, and potentially choose a new U.S. Attorney. Obama had voiced admiration for Fitz before, but after this, he committed to keeping him on. It would have looked shady for a Chicago Democrat to throw out a Republican U.S. Attorney while he was investigating another Chicago Democrat.

Fitzgerald has refused to comment on the Senate appointment.

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So...: ...if the Senate rejects Burris, then what? A special election? An appointment by Harry Reid or Obama himself once he takes office? This all seems so over the top!

Edward McClelland: I would expect Burris to sue for this Senate seat.

Harry Reid or Obama can't make an appointment. It can only come from Illinois.

Bobby Rush is trying to rally the Congressional Black Caucus behind the appointment. It is over the top. On the Early Show, he was comparing Harry Reid to Orval Faubus and Bull Connor.

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