The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008


Hill Transition

Senate to Open with Succession Dramas Still on Stage

By Paul Kane
With just six days till the start of the 111th Congress, the Illinois corruption scandal has complicated what was already shaping up to be an oddly dramatic start for the United States Senate.

Senate Democrats -- who have been rejoicing that four members of their caucus were departing for the new administration -- are left to deal with the mess of the successions of President-elect Barack Obama, Vice-President-elect Joseph Biden, Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Interior Secretary-designate Ken Salazar.

The most high-profile scenario involves what Democrats will do if Roland Burris, the choice of scandal-plagued Gov. Rod Blagojevich (Ill.), shows up Tuesday to try to take the oath of office for Obama's seat.

But let's first consider the oddity surrounding Biden.

Not only did Biden win the vice presidency on Nov. 4, he also was elected by the voters of Delaware to his seventh six-year term in the Senate. Unlike Obama, who stepped down from the Senate shortly after the election, Biden has not yet resigned. That's because Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) cannot appoint his successor until Biden's next term actually begins.

So Biden, the next vice president, is going to be on hand at noon Tuesday to get sworn in as a senator by the outgoing vice president, Richard Cheney. Then, according to Biden spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander, sometime between Tuesday and Jan. 20 Biden will officially resign from the Senate -- to become vice president.

Biden's new job, as dictated by the Constitution, will have only one real function: to be president of the chamber he just resigned from.

As confusing as that sounds, Biden and Minner have made clear what will happen with Biden's seat. Biden's former chief of staff, Ted Kaufman, will accept the appointment and serve for just two years -- at which point he will not seek to retain the seat. This will allow for a likely bid in 2010 from Biden's son, Beau, the state attorney general currently serving a tour of duty with the Delaware Army National Guard in Iraq.

Illinois voters might love such an easy route to figuring out who their next senator will be.

Over the objections of Obama and Senate Democratic leaders, Blagojevich yesterday announced his appointment of Burris, who appears to have no ties to the scandals that have landed the governor in trouble with federal authorities, including charges he was trying to sell the Senate appointment to the highest bidder.

"I'm absolutely confident and certain that the United States Senate is going to seat a man of Roland Burris's unquestioned integrity, extensive experience, and his long history of public service. This is about Roland Burris as a United States senator, not about the governor who makes the appointment," Blagojevich told reporters.

This defiance has left several possible outcomes in the Senate:

  • Burris shows up on Tuesday and gets sworn in with the rest of the senators who were elected in November;
  • Burris shows up and his appointment is rejected because the Illinois secretary of state, Jesse White, has refused to sign the paperwork certifying the appointment;
  • Burris shows up and his appointment is referred to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which conducts an investigation into his selection by the governor to determine whether he should be seated;
  • The whole mess ends up in Illinois and federal courts as Burris tries to force the Senate to seat him.

    Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, other Democratic leaders and top Senate Republicans have indicated that they have no appetite for seating Burris. Democrats and Obama declared that Blagojevich is too scandal-tarred to make any appointment to a Senate seat he was allegedly trying to auction off for his personal financial benefit. Republicans agree, and they have instead called for the state legislature to pass a law forcing a special election in the early spring -- a move which Democrats oppose, for fear of losing what would otherwise be an easy seat to hold.

    Aides today suggested that the most likely route was for the entire matter to be handed over to the Rules committee, which is going to be chaired by Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), a member of the Democratic leadership and a close ally of Reid and Obama.

    Outside experts on Senate procedure believe this will be a stalling tactic to await impeachment proceedings to conclude in Illinois, so Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn can become governor and make a new appointment. Some have questioned the legitimacy of refusing to seat Burris for ethical and possibly legal sins of Blagojevich, which could provoke a legal showdown.

    But Eric Ueland, a parliamentary and legal expert on the Senate, told The Post today that historical precedent has allowed the Senate to conduct investigations of troubling elections. This would make the matter not "justiciable," Ueland said, keeping courts out of the dispute because the Senate has proper jurisdiction.

    A senior Democratic aide argued that this is the same process as would occur in a disputed election with possible corruption skewing the outcome. "This is like judging the integrity of an election, free from fraud or corruption. It's the process that led to the appointment, not the appointee's fitness," the aide said.

    Such an outcome is also possible in the still contested Minnesota Senate race, where Democrat Al Franken is ahead of Sen. Norm Coleman by less than 50 votes, with another batch of 1,300 absentee votes to count of nearly 3 million total cast.

    The Minnesota race is unlikely to be determined until Tuesday, at the earliest, making it likely that the 111th Congress will begin with just 98 senators because of temporary vacancies in Illinois and Minnesota.

    That's before even considering the pending vacancies in New York, where Gov. David Patterson is navigating between the competing dynasties of the Kennedy and Cuomo clans, among others, to choose a successor to Clinton; and Colorado, where Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. is seeking advice over the Internet from constituents about who should succeed Salazar.

    Posted at 4:19 PM ET on Dec 31, 2008  | Category:  Hill Transition
    Share This: Technorati talk bubble Technorati | Tag in | Digg This
    Previous: Bush Looking Forward to a Quiet New Year's Eve on the Ranch | Next: Obama Heads Home to Chicago

    Add 44 to Your Site
    Be the first to know when there's a new installment of The Trail. This widget is easy to add to your Web site, and it will update every time there's a new entry on The Trail.
    Get This Widget >>


    Please email us to report offensive comments.

    Have a good day too.

    Posted by: JakeD | January 3, 2009 12:17 PM

    I couldn't care less if you believe that is not 'intelligent'.

    Posted by: JakeD

    Oh, I understand perfectly now. Well, have a good day, sir.

    Posted by: SGall23241 | January 2, 2009 9:13 PM

    I couldn't care less if you believe that is not 'intelligent'.

    Posted by: JakeD | January 2, 2009 8:12 PM

    Since they issued no written explanation, it's pointless to ask "why". Perhaps they all agreed that the plaintiff lacked legal standing (my guess). As for being willing to see what Obama will be able to do, no thank you. Perhaps you personally never referred to Bush as 'pResident' but plenty others did, and that's exactly what I am going to do. I hope that Alan Keyes files a separate lawsuit challenging every appointment, nomination, treaty, legislation, or executive order that pResident Obama signs.

    Posted by: JakeD | January 2, 2009 8:10 PM


    As I stated, already, the more conservative Supreme Court has not ruled on the "merits" (the one case it denied cert. was on PROCEDURAL grounds re: lack of standing -- let me know if you don't understand the difference between procedure and substance ("merits") -- Alan Keyes, just to let you know, has legal standing to challenge the election).

    Posted by: JakeD
    Procedural or otherwise, you still haven't answered why the SC threw it out, JakeD. if there was something to it, don't you think they would've pursued it? Apparently they didn't, and why not? Here's a guess: Perhaps because there was nothing to it. you and your ilk are looking for something, anything to delegitimize Obama, and dude, it ain't happening. All you have is speculation, which, quite frankly, looks like sour grapes to me. Geez, I decided to let it go after Bush was declared the winner in 2000, even though I didn't like it. I didn't constantly hark on it, as if I could somehow change the outcome with my brilliant arguments. It was what it was, and I (grudgingly) accepted it. Besides, don't give me any generalities or the like, legal or otherwise, on this. The fact of the matter, whether you and your ilk like it or not, is that the (more conservative) SC decided not to make any ruling on Obama's natural-born status because there really wasn't anything there. The question you should ask yourself is why they ruled the way they ruled? Once you get past that, it's pretty easy to come to a conclusion. I appeal to your intelligence, if you're willing to engage it. If not, then I'm obviously wasting my time, and I sincerely hope you'll eventually get past this. I'm willing to see what Obama will be able to do in the meantime.

    Posted by: SGall23241 | January 2, 2009 7:47 PM

    Back on topic, however, GOP Senators are threatening a filibuster if the Dems attempt to seat Franken over Coleman:

    Posted by: JakeD | January 2, 2009 7:43 PM


    As I stated, already, the more conservative Supreme Court has not ruled on the "merits" (the one case it denied cert. was on PROCEDURAL grounds re: lack of standing -- let me know if you don't understand the difference between procedure and substance ("merits") -- Alan Keyes, just to let you know, has legal standing to challenge the election).

    Posted by: JakeD | January 2, 2009 6:46 PM


    Obama's paternal grandmother said he was born in what is now Kenya. If that's true, he is not a "natural born" citizen and cannot become President of the United States.

    Posted by: JakeD

    But then why did the (more conservative than 2000) Supreme Court rule the way it did on the "merits", JakeD? You seem to be a bright fella, so answer the question. Why didn't they pursue this? Ooo, maybe Obama's got something on them to make them rule his way! Perhaps they've been hypnotized somehow! Get real, dude. You're screaming against category 5 hurricane winds, here, or an F5 tornado's.

    Posted by: SGall23241 | January 2, 2009 11:29 AM


    Obama's paternal grandmother said he was born in what is now Kenya. If that's true, he is not a "natural born" citizen and cannot become President of the United States.

    Posted by: JakeD | January 1, 2009 10:23 PM

    That's because there are none.

    Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | January 1, 2009 6:57 PM

    The Supreme Court has not ruled on the merits.

    Posted by: JakeD | January 1, 2009 3:02 PM

    Ladies and gentleman, meet JakeD, man who ignores the (even more conservative than 2000) Supreme Court that thought the case against Barack Obama's "natural-born" status was frivilous, and threw it out--but that it was okay back in 2000 when it came to Bush beating Gore. Hypocrisy at its new heights, ladies and gentleman!

    Posted by: SGall23241 | January 1, 2009 12:49 PM

    The sensational Blagojevich circus continues.

    Meanwhile, the highly suspicious fatal plane crash of key witness to republican voter fraud and evidence tampering, I.T. guru, Michael Connell, gets mostly ignored. How convenient for Rove, Cheney, and Bush.

    Connell, a devout Catholic, who believed a perceived republican victory was more important that the Constitution or the truth, requested protection after being deposed for getting over 4,000 Bush votes from 600 ballots in Ohio in 2004.

    "Accidental" fatal plane crashes for people inconvenient to republican presidents have been traditionally been reserved for foreign leaders like Torrijos.

    Posted by: rooster54 | December 31, 2008 6:52 PM

    Burris has discredited himself. His argument for his own appointment would have been entirely valid had he told the Governor, step down and allow the Lt. Governor to fill the seat. Blagovich fitness for office has nothing to do with whether or not he is found guilty of anything in a federal court. His own words disqualify him from holding public office, and Burris collaboration with him disqualifies him as well.

    Posted by: thomas777 | December 31, 2008 5:51 PM

    Hopefully, there is at least one Representative and Senator willing to file a written objection to Barack HUSSEIN Obama, Jr. lack of Constitutional Qualification to become President of the United States too.

    Posted by: JakeD | December 31, 2008 4:44 PM

    The comments to this entry are closed.


    © 2009 The Washington Post Company