Though former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris was turned away from the Senate this morning after being told he does not have permission to be seated as the junior senator from Illinois, his quest got a boost tonight when a key Democratic senator broke with her party and said he should get the appointment.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who. for now. chairs the Senate Rules Committee, indicated Tuesday that she thinks Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich still has the power to appoint Burris and that the Senate should respect that appointment.
It is the second time in two days Feinstein has frustrated Democrats. Yesterday she criticized President-elect Barack Obama's intention to nominate former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta to head the CIA. Feinstein's opinion carries weight in that appointment, too; when she leaves her post as Rules Committee chair this week she will take over as Senate Intelligence Committee chair.
Meanwhile, after a media circus in the freezing rain outside the Capitol Building where he was, as expected, told he lacked the appropriate credential to be sworn in as Obama's replacement, Burris and his lawyers said they'll weigh options.
"I am not seeking to have any type of confrontation," Burris said during a news conference that was held across the street from the Capitol Building. Burris' attorneys said they are considering their legal options, and said Burris would stay in Washington while they sorted things out.
The embattled Blagojevich, who appointed Burris, responded to the Senate action in a statement today, calling Burris "a good and decent man with a long history of public service in Illinois."
Burris is set to testify Thursday in Springfield, Ill., in Blagojevich's impeachment trial by the state legislature.
But Blagojevich said his problems should have nothing to do with Burris' appointment.
"Any allegations against me should not be held against him and especially not the people of Illinois," Blagojevich said. The U.S. attorney in Chicago has accused Blagojevich of trying to profit from his power to fill the seat vacated by Obama.
Speaking on the Senate floor this afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "The Senate will proceed in a manner that is respectful to Mr. Burris while ensuring there is no cloud of doubt over appointment to fill the seat."
Burris is set to meet Wednesday with Reid and Dick Durbin, the Democratic whip and Illinois senior senator.
As promised, Burris arrived at the Capitol building earlier this morning and was escorted to Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson's office, where he stayed for about 15 minutes; he was told the Senate would not accept his certification.
"I presented my credentials to the secretary of the Senate, and I was advised my credentials were not in order and will not be accepted," Burris said.
Adding to the confusion outside the Senate secretary's office was a reception Durbin was hosting for his own swearing in. A spokesman said Burris and all Illinoisans were invited, but Burris did not attend.
It is unclear what will happen next, since Senate Democrats said they would not recognize the appointment by a governor who had been accused of, among other things, trying to benefit from his power to fill the vacant seat.