Reid Defends Right to Fight Burris Appointment

Roland Burris says he's going to tell Democratic leaders he's ready to take his appointed place in the U.S. Senate despite their vows not to seat him. Video by AP
By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 5, 2009

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid defended his right to block the Senate appointment of former Illinois attorney general Roland W. Burris, but he didn't close the door entirely to Burris eventually getting the job.

The Nevada Democrat has asserted that the 71-year-old Illinois political veteran is tainted because he was chosen by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is accused by federal authorities of trying to sell the seat to the highest bidder. Blagojevich (D) has denied wrongdoing, and Burris is not implicated in the case. But many prominent Democrats, including President-elect Barack Obama, who created the vacancy at the center of the controversy, contend that Blagojevich has forfeited his right to name a successor.

"The state of Illinois deserves a vote in the United States Senate, and the people of the state of Illinois, the fifth most populous state in the union, deserve that vote," Reid said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Reid added: "I'm an old trial lawyer. Anything can happen."

But as long as Blagojevich remains in power, Burris's chances appear virtually nil. "It's going to be very difficult for that to occur," Reid said.

For his part, Burris remained defiant yesterday, saying he considers the matter settled but for the formalities.

"The appointment is legal. I am the junior senator from the state of Illinois," he said. "The next step in the process is to be sworn in."

Burris has scheduled a full day of meetings today in Washington, he said, although he would not identify with whom he would be meeting. Reid said he is to meet Wednesday with Burris.

The Illinois case has become an embarrassment for Democrats. The party is fresh from an electoral victory that has expanded its congressional majority and placed major legislative achievements within reach. But even as the new Congress convenes today, those goals will have to compete with the Blagojevich-Burris drama.

The second-ranking Senate Democrat, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, allowed that Blagojevich retains the authority to fill the vacancy, but he said the Senate is within its rights as well. "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," Durbin said on ABC's "This Week."

The situation has sparked a partisan battle, with Republicans asserting that a special election is the only valid solution, while Democrats said they would consider an appointment by Blagojevich's Democratic successor to be legitimate. Impeachment proceedings are underway against the governor in the Illinois legislature, but even though action could be days away, the outcome remains uncertain.

"The process is so tainted, it is such a tangled mess, as you can see, that the only way to clear the air and to have a successor chosen in Illinois that everybody can have confidence in, and a process that they can have confidence in, would be to have a special election," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said on "This Week."

Burris has threatened to sue if his appointment is not recognized. Asked yesterday what he would do if he were blocked from the Senate chamber, Burris replied: "I am a U.S. senator. I will act calmly and, if refused entry, move away from the chamber and take the next step."

Reid cast Burris as the victim of a desperate man. "Blagojevich obviously is a corrupt individual. I think that's pretty clear. And the reason that he's done what he's done is to divert attention from the arrest that was just made of him and the indictment which will be coming in a few days, according to the U.S. attorney in Illinois," Reid said.

Staff writer Lonnae O'Neal Parker contributed to this report.

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