Burris expects to join Senate 'very shortly'

January 7, 2009 11:21:04 AM PST
Roland Burris said Wednesday he should be able to join the Senate "very shortly," after talking to newly supportive Democratic leaders and working on lingering legal obstacles. Talking to reporters on the second day of a Washington power odyssey that would intimidate many, the 71-year-old Burris declared himself "very happy" and said he was pleased with his meeting with Sens. Harry Reid and Dick Durbin.

"My whole interest in this experience is to be prepared" to lead Illinois, Burris said, "and very shortly I will have the opportunity to do that."

Burris' legal issues include a pending decision by a court in his home state on whether Secretary of State Jesse White's signature is required on his certification papers and his appearance Thursday before a committee considering the impeachment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who appointed him to take Barack Obama's Senate seat.

For his part, Obama stood above the fray, telling his own news conference that the decision on whether to allow Burris to join the Senate is a decision for Senate leaders. He did say that he knew him, liked him and would be happy to work with him if he is seated.

Earlier, Reid, D-Nev., emerged with Durbin from a private meeting they had in the Capitol building with Burris, the former attorney general of Illinois.

Reid said the Senate was awaiting that court ruling by the state court that tests whether the White has to put his signature on Burris' letter of appointment. White has taken the position that Blagojevich, accused of seeking to benefit financially from filling Obama's seat, did not have legal authority to make the appointment.

Of Burris, Reid told reporters: "We don't have a problem with him as an individual."

And both he and Durbin, D-Ill., dramatically softened their party's opposition to seating any Blagojevich appointee.

Knowledgeable Senate officials said the visual embrace of Burris was meant to show acceptance of his personal and professional qualifications, an indication that opposition to seating him was waning.

Burris was on the second day of a bizarre introduction to Capitol Hill, standing in the rain Tuesday to say he wouldn't be seated and then giving a much more upbeat assessment of prospects Wednesday after his meeting with Reid and Durbin.

Burris was asked about the obviously warmer reception he got the second time around this week.

"I don't know what pressure they were under, but they, I guess they have to keep the integrity of the Senate," he said. "And they did not want to rush into anything and make a decision where they have to then be trying to reverse that. And that would even be worse."

Asked if he, Reid and Durbin discussed any conditions under which he could be seated, he said that subject "wasn't even on their radar screen."

When a reporter inquired as to whether Burris might have had any "pay to play" discussions with Blagojevich or his office, Burris said that couldn't have happened "because I don't have no money.