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Why Is Roland Burris Still A Senator?
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Why Is Roland Burris Still A Senator?
Why Is Roland Burris Still A Senator?
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SCOTT SIMON, host:

In these days in which so many Americans are losing their jobs because of the current economic crisis, it may be reassuring to know that one man holds onto his because of it. Roland Burris is still in the U.S. Senate. President Obama's spokesman urged Mr. Burris to reflect on what may be best for his future, which is how presidents remind other politicians that they can make them ambassadors or nonentities.

Mr. Burris's colleague, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, says he told Mr. Burris that if he were in his place he would resign. But no one may be able to persuade Roland Burris to do anything. He's a senator, after all. At the age of 71, so widely portrayed as a man who bears false witness, he will probably not seek any political office or favor again. So the usual incentives for persuasion just don't apply.

President Obama can't coax Mr. Burris out of his seat by offering to make him U.S. ambassador to someplace warm that doesn't possess nuclear weapons, like Barbados. The Barbadians might say send him to Jamaica.

He also can't be pressured by publicity. Roland Burris has had as much scabrous publicity in recent weeks as any rehabbing starlet, and he's still a senator.

Now, politicians, like philosophers, must be able to hold two opposing ideas in their mind at the same time. So Senate Democrats can play reformers by calling on Roland Burris to resign, but when he vows to stay, they know they can count on his vote, and they need every vote they can muster to pass President Obama's ambitious, extensive and expensive proposed budget.

If Roland Burris were to resign, Illinois's new governor would have to appoint another interim successor for at least a month, someone of unassailable integrity. But Nelson Mandela doesn't live in Chicago, and if the state holds a special election to pick a successor, it would give the Republicans at least a sporting chance to win, even while the last Republican governor finishes his prison term.

The Senate could convene an ethics inquiry, but that might prove even more embarrassing for the senators, who just seven weeks ago thought Mr. Burris sounded like an honest pol, if not exactly a Boy Scout. Voters in Illinois may say they are appalled and embarrassed, but please, let me say as a Chicagoan, we know how to cope with embarrassment.

In the end, all the party leaders who call for his resignation may be just as happy for Senator Burris to stay exactly where he is. He may not be an Illinois politician like Lincoln or Obama, whose profile will be chiseled into marble, but as long as he can lift a finger to vote, Roland Burris is still a precious asset.

(Soundbite of song, "Goldfinger")

Ms. SHIRLEY BASSEY (Singer): (Singing) Goldfinger, he's the man, the man with the Midas touch, a spider's touch. Such a cold finger beckons you to enter his web of sin...

SIMON: Dame Shirley. This is NPR News.

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