As chair of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr (R-N.C.), is in the position to — just as one of his predecessors, the late Sam Ervin (D-N.C.) — to achieve historical greatness in the way he runs his committee’s investigation of Donald Trump, his campaign and Russian connections.
Or, he could not. When I moved to North Carolina in 1972, our state had two little-known senators: Ervin and B. Everett Jordan. Yet, Ervin, like Burr says he is today, was in his last term. He was thrust into the national spotlight as the chairman of the “Ervin Committee” investigating the Watergate scandal of 1973-4. The work of the Senate’s Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, which resulted in the resignation of President Nixon.
Most U.S. Senators hardly receive a mention in the footnotes of American history. North Carolina Senators, over the past fifty years, have represented different styles. For example, Jordan and Republican Lauch Faircloth were known for constituent services. They were not well known or identified with visible, critical policies or historic legislative events.
In a sense — like most state and national legislators — these senators served their terms and faded back into their local communities.
Then there was the “media senator,” Democrat John Edwards, who basically used his single six-year term to run for president in 2004 and 2008 and ended up on the Democratic presidential ticket as John Kerry’s running mate in 2004.
Sen. Jesse Helms, a Republican, also was a “media” senator, but not on an upward mobility path like Edwards. Helms, rather, became a well-known bomb-thrower for ultra-conservative causes and his reputation will long be nationally recognized for his opposition (“Senator No”) to “liberalism,” whether he was in the Senate majority or minority. My guess is Helms is better known than Sam Ervin.
My point: Sen. Burr stands at the threshold of becoming the Sam Ervin of the next few years (and the rest of his life), or he could follow the example of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, whose leadership so far has resulted in a partisan implosion of the committee’s work.
Although Burr and ranking Democratic member Mark Warner of Virginia have made a good bipartisan, classy start, there are enormous roadblocks. The pair will:
— incur the wrath of Trump and his administration;
— face the opposition of the Senate majority leader and his GOP colleagues;
— have to deal with the lobbyists and special interest that back the Trump Administration;
— be up against the Republican National Committee and GOP state committees;
— have to live with the incessant and loud critiques and smears by Fox news, right-wing talk radio; and newspaper pundits;
— attacked by the GOP and Trump voting base, which will be mobilized against the committee’s proceedings;
— and finally, they must explain to the American people the committee’s findings could lead to complete exoneration but also could lead to impeachment.
Heavy stuff, right?
Or, Sen. Burr could look at his historic opportunity this way:
— the nation needs answers to the possible interference of a foreign power in our elections;
— the U.S. Senate can rise above politics and political self-interest when our nation is threatened;
— a demonstration of bipartisanship would reveal that the two major political parties can, indeed, once again work together;
— and, like Sam Ervin, this experience would solidify Richard Burr’s reputation as one public servant who did not fear to serve his country and his state.