Burris and race

The first thing you have to understand is that this Roland Burris controversy is not about race — not at all, absolutely not, not even a little bit.

Burris is, of course, the African-American, self-styled “junior senator from Illinois,” chosen by the scandal-ridden Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) to fill the seat of President-elect Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden's immigration plan has serious problems Hearing for Twitter hack suspect Zoom-bombed by porn, rap music Read: Sally Yates testimony MORE.

We know the hubbub over Burris’s appointment isn’t about race because Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMcConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill Kamala Harris to young Black women at conference: 'I want you to be ambitious' Obama calls filibuster 'Jim Crow relic,' backs new Voting Rights Act bill MORE (D-Nev.), Majority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic MORE (D-Ill.) and Burris himself have told us so.

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“Roland Burris, one of the first things he said to us was, ‘Hey, this is nothing that’s racial,’”  Reid told reporters this week after meeting with Burris and Durbin. “So a lot of people tried to make this a racial issue, but Roland Burris has not and will not.”

Durbin added that Burris told the senators, “I understand this controversy has nothing to do with my race, and I understand that both of you have excellent records when it comes to racial relations.”

The heart of the matter, Durbin explained, is not race but the Senate rule requiring that an appointed senator present a certificate signed by his state’s governor and secretary of state.

The “serious question that has to be asked and answered,” Durbin said, is “whether the secretary of state, Jesse White, an African-American, in Illinois, needs to certify the signature of Rod Blagojevich for the appointment of Roland Burris.”

OK. But just one question. Why did Durbin need to point out that the Illinois secretary of state is an African-American?

Because this is not about race.

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The truth is, the Burris mess is in some real sense about race, no matter what Reid, Durbin and Burris himself say. Blagojevich, in a deep hole, wanted to get back at all those people who had been calling him a disgrace. And in doing so, he has punked the highest levels of the Senate Democratic leadership.

We knew it from the very moment Blagojevich held a news conference to introduce Burris and then invited Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) to say a few words.

“Let me just remind you that there presently is no African- American in the U.S. Senate,” Rush said. “I will ask you to not hang and lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer.”

Burris, who hasn’t engaged in that sort of rhetoric himself, said nothing to distance himself from those remarks.

And then came Tuesday, when Burris was turned away from the Senate — in the cold and rain, no less. It was a pretty powerful scene.

“It was brilliant stagecraft, if it was all on purpose,” one Republican Senate insider told me. “[Burris] looked sad and cold, wrapped his coat around himself at one point. It was evocative of the 1960s, just in color — a black man being turned away.”

You think Senate Democrats didn’t see that, too? If they didn’t, then why was Burris smiling in a warm and cozy photo-op in Reid’s office the next morning?

Just in case some senators didn’t get the message, they could listen to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), after the Congressional Black Caucus voted unanimously to support Burris.

“This is a situation where we have a senator who has now missed out on his first day,” Cummings told reporters. “It’s only fair that he be sworn in immediately. This is a no-brainer.”

Senate Democrats didn’t deserve this particular mess. But now that it’s here, they can’t deny what it’s really about.



York is a White House correspondent for National Review. His column appears in The Hill each week.
E-mail: byork@nationalreview.com