On one side stood the president-elect, 50 Democratic senators on Capitol Hill and just about every politician in Illinois. On the other side was Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, criminal defendant and national punching bag.
Guess who won?
Blagojevich outfoxed everyone who had warned him not to try to fill the Senate seat he is charged with trying to sell. Despite the scandal around him, the governor got his way by staring down his opponents with the perfect pick: Roland Burris, a black politician who had an unblemished reputation and big ambitions, guaranteeing he would fight tirelessly for the seat.
Blagojevich’s choice put Democrats in the sticky position of trying to deny entry to the man who would become the chamber’s only black member — in the seat that last belonged to US president-elect Barack Obama, no less.
In the end, the combination of Blagojevich and Burris proved to be such a distraction that Obama himself reversed course and signaled to Senate leaders that they should seat Burris. Finally, on Monday, they said they would. US Vice President Dick Cheney will swear Burris in today on the Senate floor.
In related news, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton smoothly took on policy questions from the acute to the arcane in a gentle job interview to be the top US diplomat.
Her confirmation as secretary of state is not in doubt, and she could be on the job as soon as Tuesday.
Clinton gave a polished performance on Tuesday, offering well-prepared answers to questions on crises and trouble spots including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, Cuba and Afghanistan. She offered few details about how she and Obama would handle those problems, except to say that in many cases they would offer a fresh approach to the job.