Senate slaps Burris on the wrist

It would have been foolish to expect the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee to take drastic action against a sitting Democrat when the party needs every vote it can get on critical policy measures such as health care reform.

But the ethics committee admonishment of Illinois Sen. Roland Burris for “inconsistent, misleading or incomplete statements” he made about his relationship with disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is so meaningless as to be laughable.

Burris, readers may recall, was appointed by Blagojevich to fill the Illinois seat in the U.S. Senate that was vacated when Barack Obama became president. Members of both parties urged Blagojevich not to make the appointment because he was under indictment at the time for allegedly trying to sell the Senate appointment to the highest bidder. Democratic leaders in the Senate initially refused to seat Burris. But they eventually gave up their opposition and allowed him to be sworn in, on the condition that his testimony before the Illinois Legislature regarding his relationship with Blagojevich was truthful.

It wasn’t.

Burris originally told the Illinois legislators that he had done nothing on Blagojevich’s behalf in order to secure the Senate appointment. Only after he was sworn in as senator did he amend his statement to the Illinois legislative committee, saying that he had discussed with the governor’s brother how he might raise campaign donations for Blagojevich. He didn’t actually solicit those donations.

Still, Burris lied to the Illinois legislative panel and altered his testimony only after he was sworn in as Senator. And the Senate Ethics Committee sent him a letter of admonition Friday — the mildest form of rebuke that the ethics committee can administer, according to The Washington Post.

No one expected Burris to be thrown out of the Senate, since he has agreed not to seek election in 2010 and will be out of office in little more than a year. But an ethics panel that was truly committed to ensuring members meet basic standards of conduct would have issue a much stronger rebuke of Burris.

No wonder Americans have so little faith in the ability of Congress to police its own.


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