Burris might be closer to Senate seat

Senate leaders move toward seating Burris
January 7, 2009 8:40:03 PM PST
Roland Burris returned to Chicago on Wednesday, appearing upbeat and hopeful that he will soon be sworn in as a U.S. Senator.Burris met with Senate Majority Leader Henry Reid on Wednesday morning and returned to Chicago on Wednesday night.

On Thursday, Burris will be in Springfield to testify before the committee deciding whether Gov. Blagojevich should be impeached.

But on Wednesday, most of the action was in Washington.

Tuesday it was cold and rain.

On Wednesday, it was leather-bound chairs and chit-chat with two of the most powerful men in Washington.

"It just shows you being on the inside is better than being on the outside!" said Rep. Bobby Rush, (D) Chicago.

Forty eight hours ago, Mr. Burris came to Washington on what many considered to be a long-shot mission.

On Wednesday night, he's back in Chicago, closer than ever to becoming Illinois' next senator.

Senate leaders now say they're willing to seat Burris if Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White signs the governor's letter of appointment.

"I believe that the Senate of the United States can appoint my good friend, Roland Burris, to that position without the signature of the secretary of state of Illinois," said Secretary of State Jesse White.

They'll also be watching to say what Burris has to say about his contacts with Gov. Rod Blagojevich during testimony Thursday before the House Impeachment Committee.

"There have been a lot of issues about why we held this up. Well, it's obvious: We have a man who was arrested for trying to sell the office," said Sen. Harry Reid, Senate Democratic leader.

Democrats are desperate to put the stench of Illinois' political scandal in their rear view mirror. Seating a person sent by Rod Blagojevich may be distasteful, but it's also the quickest way to get their message back on track.

"The good news is this: this will soon be behind us and the 44th President of the United States will be inaugurated from the state of Illinois. There'll be a great deal of pride then, just as we were on election night," said Sen. Dick Durbin, (D) Illinois.

Burris on Capitol Hill on Wednesday

During a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, Burris said he expected to be accepted to take Barack Obama's Senate seat soon.

Roland Burris was back on Capitol Hill on Wednesday morning, after he was sent packing on Tuesday by Senate Democrats.

What a difference a day makes.

On Tuesday, Roland Burris was literally and figuratively out in the cold.

On Wednesday, he was invited to a meeting with the two highest ranking members of the U.S. Senate.

"There's going to come a time when the entire Senate will have to act on this and that day I hope will come sooner rather than later," said Sen. Harry Reid, Senate Democratic leader.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid opened the door a bit more to seating Burris. First, though, Reid insists on the Secretary of State signing the Governor's letter appointing Burris. The Illinois Supreme Court could force that to happen any day now.

"I don't regret a thing. I had said back on December 9 that I would not affix my signature to a document where the governor was trying to negotiate for himself a deal with the person to appoint to replacement for Barack Obama," said Secretary of State Jesse White.

"I called Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Secretary of State Jesse White yesterday and urged them not to delay the decision. Whatever the decision the Supreme Court, we want it to be made in a timely basis and they both agreed that was their intent as well," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

Senators are also interested in hearing Burris' testimony on Thursday before the state House Impeachment Committee.

Reid says once those things happen, the full Senate will vote on seating Burris. On Wednesday, the Governor's Senate appointee said they'll find no skeletons in his closet.

"There was certainly no pay-to-play involved because I don't have any money!" said Burris, Senate appointee.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are now also backing Burris. All 41 members voted unanimously to urge the Senate to seat Burris immediately. Right now, there are no African Americans in the Senate.

The delay, leader Reid insists, has been about Rod Blagojevich - not race.

"There have been a lot of issues about why this is held up. Well, it's obvious: We have a man who was arrested for trying to sell the office," said Reid.

Burris meets with Reid, Durbin on Wednesday morning

Earlier Wednesday, there were errant reports that a deal was reached to seat Burris. There is no final deal. But the path has been cleared, pending a ruling from the Illinois Supreme Court on Burris' certification.

On Wednesday morning, there was a 45-minute meeting on Capitol Hill between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Ill. Sen. Dick Durbin and Burris.

The first thing Burris reportedly said to Reid was that he doesn't believe race should influence the decision. Some were signifying that it was racist for the all-white Senate to delay seating him.

Just after the meeting got underway, the Associated Press ran a bulletin saying the Senate planned to accept Burris. Shortly thereafter, Senator Reid said that was not true. But it may happen, he says, if Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White signs Burris' appointment papers.

"For a person to be appointed by a governor, you have to have the signature of the governor and secretary of state," said Reid. "Now, that matter is in the courts. And there are all kinds of rumors floating around when the Illinois Supreme Court will make that ruling, but it appears they will do it pretty soon. And as to whether or not the secretary of state must sign the certificate along with the governor, I think it was important that the United States Senate say - and we did as a democratic caucus - unanimously we were going to carefully scrutinize and review the process by which the Senate seat would be filled if Governor Blagojevich was involved and that is what happened."

Burris has asked justices to force White to sign the governor's letter appointing Burris.

Throughout the controversy, President-elect Barack Obama has tried to distance himself from the mess surrounding the vacant seat. But on Wednesday morning for the first time, Obama said he would be happy to work with Burris if the Senate seats him.

"That is a Senate matter, but I know Roland Burris. Obviously, he is from my home state. I think he is a fine public servant. If he is seated, I will work with Roland Burris like I work with all the other senators to make sure that the people of Illinois and people of the country are served," Obama said.

Senator Reid says he and colleagues in Washington will be watching developments in Springfield Thursday very closely. That is when Burris is scheduled to testify about his appointment before the state house impeachment committee.

Reid also says even if White signs the certificate, Reid would be possibly be willing to seat Burris, but he doesn't think that will happen without a full vote of every member of the United States Senate.

"We don't have a problem with him as an individual," Reid said as he dramatically softened his party's opposition to seating any appointee of embattled Gov. Rod Blogojevich. Federal prosecutors arrested the governor last month and accused him of trying to sell Obama's Senate seat.

Durbin said he hoped the legal matters would be resolved "so we can fill all the vacancies and have a full complement of the Senate."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.