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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Richardson's Bow Out: Why Now?

You can read the complete statements of Obama and Richardson about the Governor bowing out of the Commerce Secretary nomination here. (Also see my previous post.)

Personally, I have to question Obama's calculations in picking Richardson if the grand jury investigation into CDR Financial Products -- only a small part of which involves Richardson -- is such a problem now. The wide-ranging probe by the FBI has been going on a long time, and was no secret. Obama knew about it when he named Richardson.

What's changed since Obama announced his choice for Commerce Secretary? I suppose something seriously damaging to Richardson could have emerged from the investigation in the last few days, but I doubt it. Note that Obama makes a point in his statement to say he may well ask Richardson to serve his administration in the future, once the investigation concludes:

"It is a measure of his [Richardson's] willingness to put the nation first that he has removed himself as a candidate for the Cabinet to avoid any delay in filling this important economic post at this critical time. Although we must move quickly to fill the void left by Governor Richardson's decision, I look forward to his future service to our country and in my administration."

The Blago-Burris-Reid Connection
What definitely has changed since the Richardson pick is that the Blago-Burris-Reid thing has blown up in Obama's face, thanks in no small part to the wacky over-reaction of Sen. Harry Reid and other Dem Senators, as well as the Obama team itself. They've managed to box themselves into a corner because of early threats and statements, and now they are stuck having to create a very public scene if they won't seat Roland Burris when he shows up in Washington on Tuesday to fill Obama's seat.

I don't get what legitimate legal grounds the Dem Senators have to stop the Burris appointment. Whatever one many think of Blago, he's is still a legally seated governor with the legal right to make the pick, and Burris is definitely qualified to serve. Blago has been charged in a complaint from the U.S. Attorney, but he has not been indicted by a grand jury. In fact, Patrick Fitzgerald has asked for a 90-day extension to go before the grand jury -- on top of the 30 days he was granted when he filed the complaint.

Given the pounding Obama et al. will no doubt get next week if they try to stop Burris, it's certainly conceivable that Richardson was "encouraged" to withdraw to cut off potential criticism about his (and thus Obama's) ethics. If you're going to stop a legitimate Senate appointment because of ACCUSATIONS of wrongdoing, it would be hard to defend the Richardson appointment when some of his actions are reportedly being probed by a grand jury.

To my mind, Obama and Reid et al. should have let the Burris appointment go. The Dems need every vote they can get in the Senate and, by all accounts, Burris is a loyal Dem -- unlike, say, Joe Lieberman, who was defended to the hilt by Obama despite his disloyalties and worse. As for the Senators, do recall how they gave convicted felon Ted Stevens a standing ovation -- with Reid providing lots of praise -- when he was forced to resign his seat because of a fraud conviction. As it stands, the Obama seat may well sit empty for months, depriving Dems of a much needed vote when Obama tries to "hit the ground running," as he puts it.

We All Pay for Early Miscues
Bottom line: The loss of Richardson's Commerce Secretary appointment may well be another sad ramification of the mishandling of the process to get a replacement in Obama's seat. Who did the mishandling? Of course Blago himself is front and center, but let's not forget the odd and over the top responses of Obama and the Democratic Senate leadership. We all lose due to the series of miscalculations and hubristic actions that have brought us to a disappointing place as Obama gets set to take over the oval office. I expected better, didn't you?

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January 4, 2009 at 02:54 PM in 2009 Gubernatorial Transition, Crime, Obama Transition | Permalink

Comments

You make some excellent points about the possibility that it's the Blago thing that's pushing this withdrawal. If it were about something new and bad happening in the FBI investigation why would Barack and Denish and Richardson be saying Big Bill will be back into the Obama administration soon? Why would Obama, especially, go out on a limb like that?

I am sensing panic with the Demo senators and Obama too and I don't think it's a good sign at all.

Posted by: primo | Jan 4, 2009 6:24:06 PM

Barb, I think you are spot on.

Posted by: marjorie | Jan 4, 2009 8:50:51 PM

marjorie: Thanks. You have immaculate judgment! Seriously, though, if Richardson got tossed under the bus at this point because of Obama's desire to make himself look better with the Burris thing, that would be very depressing.

Posted by: barb | Jan 4, 2009 9:01:06 PM

As I understand it the legitimate legal standing that Reid has to NOT seat Burris has to do with the Illinois Secretary of State refusing to sign the paperwork from the Govenor. Until the SoS voluntarily does it or Burris can get the Illinois Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus forcing it, Reid can refuse to seat him. Why Reid is doing that is an issue that I don't fully understand, anyway should Burris manage to get the SoS to sign off then Reid will have to seat him, like it or not. As for Richardson I have a hard time believing there is any real wrong doing there, it sure smells like a Rove type political back stabbing to me.

Posted by: VP | Jan 5, 2009 9:33:10 AM

A couple of clues have emerged. Tapper says the Obama transition team claims Richardson's people weren't forthcoming on the scandal. That I can easily believe.

And Ambinder says the Obama team were surprised when Richardson accepted the offer--no one seriously thought he'd take it, as it was a demotion. I was surprised too.

This means that undoubtedly there are other choices that will be appointed very soon. Wait and see.

As for the Burris appointment, it's political poison. No one wants a Blago appointed senator, even if he'd appointed God's representative on Earth.

My solution: Appoint Burris to Commerce, and after the governorship is in safe hands, fire him.

Posted by: KathyF | Jan 5, 2009 10:26:38 AM

Burris doesn't need the SOS to sign off. In fact by law it's just a formality and if the SOS doesn't sign it, it's legal anyway. The Senate action to reject it today means the IL supreme court will rule on the validity of the certificate of appointment. They might act as soon as today.

Posted by: legal mind | Jan 5, 2009 11:00:42 AM

Hey KathyF: I'm not sure what's being revealed by Tapper and Ambinder other than anonymous leaks from the Obama campaign to cover their arses. If they were gonna leak stuff like this, why be so positive about Richardson's future in the admin in the Obama statement on this? Kinda two-faced IMO.

As for the Burris thing - whether it's political poison or not, why should a legitimate appointment of a qualified person be allowed to be manhandled for political reasons by U.S. Senators? Not a good precedent, for one thing. Obama already meddled in the legis branch with his defense of Lieberman and now this. Message to Barack - tend to things in the exec branch. There's a lot there to keep you busy!

I have to admit, though, that your solution may have merit!


Posted by: barb | Jan 5, 2009 11:28:52 AM

Excellent cogent arguments Barb, while I'm just pissed off about the whole thing. Poisoning the New Mexico well by responding thusly to these allegations is irritating, and well...poisoning.

A politically crippled governor limps back "home".

P.S.: I have to disagree on the Burris thing, speaking of "home" poisons. The Illinois Democrats should have agreed to refuse any Blago appointment. There's party and there's the right thing...and sometimes they aren't the same thing.

Posted by: scot | Jan 5, 2009 5:13:43 PM