Burris: Ready to take Senate seat

January 5, 2009 12:07:06 PM PST
Defiant and upbeat, Illinois U.S. Senate appointee Roland Burris said Monday that upon arriving in Washington, he plans to tell Democratic leaders: "I'm here to take my seat." But Burris faces an uphill battle on Capitol Hill, where his fellow Democrats have pledged not to confirm anyone appointed by embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill the seat left vacant by Barack Obama's election as president.

"I am the junior senator according to every law book in the nation," Burris said Monday, chalking up the controversy swirling around him to "politics and theater."

Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on federal corruption charges that include allegations he tried to sell or trade the Senate appointment to the highest bidder. He has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, has steadfastly refused to resign and announced Burris' appointment last week.

Burris, a former state attorney general, reiterated Monday that his appointment is legal and the governor had the authority to make it. He has threatened to sue Senate Democrats if they refuse to swear him in.

Earlier Monday, paperwork naming Burris to the seat was received by the U.S. Senate secretary but was not formally accepted, according to Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero.

The paperwork, delivered by an official representing Blagojevich, lacks certification from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who also has refused to sign off on any Blagojevich appointment.

Burris has asked the Illinois Supreme Court to force White to sign the paperwork. He said Monday he is not angry with White, whom he called a friend.

"I'm not angry with anybody," Burris added. "As a matter of fact I'm happy. I'm enjoying this on behalf of the people of Illinois."

He was leaving for Washington a day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the chances of Burris being sworn in are slim. But, Reid said he expected to meet with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on Monday evening in hopes "we can solve this issue on a bipartisan basis." Reid added, "I'm an old trial lawyer. There's always room to negotiate."

Burris said once in Washington, he planned to tell Reid, "I'm here to take my seat."

Opponents say Burris' appointment is tainted because it was made by Blagojevich, who is accused by federal authorities of offering to sell the vacancy to the highest bidder. His supporters say he qualified and legally appointed, and note that he would be the only black member of the Senate.

Reid has said there would be "a cloud over anyone that comes from the state of Illinois being appointed by Blagojevich."

The second-ranking Democrat, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, acknowledged that Blagojevich has the state constitutional authority to fill the vacancy. But he added, "The Senate of the United States has the U.S. constitutional responsibility to decide if Mr. Burris was chosen in a proper manner and that is what we're going to do."

Burris said he attempted to arrange a meeting with Durbin on Monday or Tuesday but learned he was too busy. He said the two made an appointment for Wednesday, the day after new senators are set to be sworn in.

Democratic leaders plan to afford Burris few, if any, privileges even if he were to come to the Capitol with the proper credentials.

Senate officials have said a Democrat will object to Burris being duly sworn with the rest of his class Tuesday and will propose that his credentials be reviewed for a period of time by the Senate Rules Committee. That would give Burris the status of a senator-elect and buy some time as Democrats hope Blagojevich will be removed from office before the committee completes its investigation.


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