What to Do With Roland Burris

By Theresa Cook

Jan 2, 2009 2:31pm

ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf Reports:  The one thing for sure is that Roland Burris, the former Illinois Attorney General appointed under a could by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, has every intention of showing up for work on Tuesday to be sworn into the U.S. Senate to finish Barack Obama’s Senate term. That is all that is sure. The Senate Democrats will likely "take this appointment and throw it for an investigation into the Senate Rules Committee, hoping that … will take some time.  And by the time it plays itself out, the Illinois state legislature will have impeached Blagojevich, and a new appointee comes in," ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos said on "Good Morning America" Friday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Majority Whip, Sen. Dick Durbin, who would also be Burris’ senior Senator, have pledged not to seat him. Legal experts question their authority to lock Burris out. It is unclear if Burris will even be able to get onto the Senate floor to plead his case.  In one long shot scenario being considered, Blagojevich could escort Burris onto the Senate floor for a parliamentary standoff. Under the section on "Contested Seats" in the "Floor Privileges" Chapter of the Senate rulebook, "Riddick’s Senate Procedure," the rules say: "Ex-Senators and Senators-elect are admitted to the floor under specific stipulations of the rule, and in practice numerous contestants have been granted floor privileges and the right to address the Senate in support of their claim to a seat." But Burris is neither an ex-Senator nor a Senator-elect.  But one person the Senators cannot bar from the Senate floor is Rod Blagojevich. Whether indicted, convicted, or simply under a cloud, the rules do state that "Governors of States and Territories" have floor privileges. Don’t forget that Sen. Ted Stevens, even though he was convicted in federal court of 7 counts of failing to declare gifts, is still a sitting Senator until the 110th Congress ends Saturday. And staffs and Senators will be considering what to do with Burris all weekend until they meet and set a specific strategy before Tuesday. Senators are supposed to be sworn in in batches of four starting at high noon.
Senate leaders opposed to allowing Blagojevich the luxury of appointing Burris had been banking on rejecting Burris’ credential, which Senate rules say must have the signature of both the sitting Governor and the sitting Illinois Secretary of State. But does not appear this is a binding law, but rather a Senate rule. What is also unclear is what Burris can do on Tuesday if Democrats do in fact keep him from the Senate chamber. He could march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the same federal courthouse where Stevens was tried and file suit in federal court. But the courts move even slower than the Senate and its unclear how long it would take the courts to determine if Senators were acting appropriate, barring a member not because of his qualifications, but because of the qualifications of his appointer. If the state lawmakers vote to impeach Blagojevich, Illinois Lt. Governor Pat Quinn could make his own appointment. That would not automatically nullify Burris’ appointment, but it would give the Senate the ability to seat the new appointee instead and, at that point, Burris would have to gauge whether a protracted court fight would be worth the trouble. Barack Obama has said he doesn’t believe Burris should be seated.  "The President-elect agrees with Senate Democrats who say that this whole process is corrupt," Stephanopoulos said.

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