Senate Appointee Makes Inroads

Changing course, Senate Democrats emerged from a meeting with Senate appointee Roland Burris on Wednesday and set forth the legal steps under which they're willing to welcome him into the Senate in President-elect Barack Obama's vacated spot. Video by AP
By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 8, 2009

Roland W. Burris, an also-ran for most of his career in Illinois politics, is on the verge of winning a showdown in Washington that has pitted him against the leaders of the U.S. Senate and the president-elect.

Democratic leaders yesterday laid out a path for Burris to join the Senate, a sharp reversal after they and President-elect Barack Obama last week cast his selection to fill Obama's former seat as tainted because he was appointed by embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

After meeting yesterday with Burris, who is a Democrat and a former attorney general of Illinois, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said the Senate would consider seating Burris if his appointment is certified by the Illinois secretary of state and the testimony he delivers today in Springfield before a panel of Illinois legislators investigating Blagojevich (D) reveals no impropriety in the process through which Burris received the appointment.

The Senate's Rules and Administration Committee would then examine the appointment, and the full Senate would probably then vote on whether to seat Burris, Reid said. Senate Republicans have signaled they will not oppose Burris's appointment.

"We're going to do the best we can to make sure that the state of Illinois has two senators, not one senator," Reid told reporters outside his office after a 45-minute session with Burris and Durbin.

Burris, who held his own news conference about two hours after the two leaders spoke, said Reid and Durbin indicated he was on the cusp of being seated.

"I'm very pleased," he told reporters in a hotel ballroom. "This afternoon, I'm very happy."

Burris will testify today before a panel of 21 members of the Illinois House of Representatives who are investigating whether to impeach Blagojevich, who faces corruption charges that include attempting to sell to the highest bidder the seat Obama vacated after winning the presidency. Reid said Democrats would watch that session closely.

The Illinois Supreme Court has not ruled on a motion by Burris to compel Secretary of State Jesse White to sign the certificate of appointment, which White has refused to do. If White is required by the court to sign the certificate, as Democrats expect, it is not clear how long the Rules and Administration Committee would take to study the appointment process or when the Senate would vote to seat Burris.

On Tuesday, Burris's credentials were rejected by the secretary of the Senate, who cited White's refusal to sign the documents, leaving Burris to conduct a news conference in the rain outside the Capitol. But after several Democrats broke with their leadership and signaled support for seating Burris, Reid welcomed him into his office and later described him as "very engaging."

Last month, 50 Senate Democrats signed a letter imploring Blagojevich not to appoint anyone to the seat. But over the past several days, key members of Congress, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), came out in favor of seating Burris, saying the Senate lacks strong legal grounds on which to oppose the appointment. Obama also backed down from his opposition yesterday, saying that "if he gets seated, then I'm going to work with Roland Burris just like I work with all the other senators."

The Congressional Black Caucus, a group of 41 House Democrats, voted yesterday to call on Senate Democrats to seat Burris, who would replace Obama as the Senate's only black member. Reid and Durbin have appeared wary of stoking any racial tension on the issue, and Durbin pointedly noted in his comments yesterday that White is also African American.

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