WASHINGTON, Jan. 5, 2009 -- Though the Senate parliamentarian today formally rejected Roland Burris' claim to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, the former Illinois attorney general remained adamant that the seat is his.
"I am going there to be seated. I am the junior senator from the state of Illinois," Burris told reporters as he arrived at Chicago's Midway Airport on his way to Washington.
Burris also said the law is on his side, despite the parliamentarian's move.
"I'm not bothered by that because the appointment is legal," he said. "Why don't you all understand that what has been done here is legal? That's legal. I am the junior senator from Illinois, and I wish my colleagues in the press would recognize that."
The credential rejection is the first formal step toward the Senate rejecting Burris' appointment by embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The governor, who is accused of trying to sell the spot vacated by the president-elect, has cast a shadow over the appointment. But Burris said he doesn't feel the need to distance himself from Blagojevich.
"I don't have to separate myself from Rod Blagojevich," he said. "He carried out his duties and he filled a vacancy as according to law. Isn't that correct? Isn't that what the statute says? That this governor shall appoint a person to fill the vacancy. It didn't say anything about being tainted. ... This is all politics and theater. But I am the junior senator according to every law book in the nation."
The Senate parliamentarian, a nonpartisan employee of the Senate who advises on issues concerning rules of order, ruled the credential was not valid after it was presented to the secretary of the Senate on the third floor of the Capitol Building by Clayton Harris, Blagojevich's acting chief of staff.
Harris said he brought it to the Senate staff in person, even though it was expected that it would be rejected.
"My role here is to do everything I can to make sure the state of Illinois continues to function," Harris said. "The first priority is getting the great state of Illinois all of its representation in Congress."
According to the Secretary of the Senate's Office, the credential presented by Harris was not valid because it did not have the signatures of both the appointing governor and the secretary of state.
Instead of the signature of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who has said he would not sign on to an appointment made by Blagojevich, Harris said he included with the credential a copy of a fax from White's office stating it had registered Blagojevich's intention to appoint Burris.
"I'm not angry at the secretary of state. He's a great public servant," Burris said, when he was asked about White's decision not to sign the credential. "There's no anger. I'm not angry on anybody. As a matter of fact, I'm happy. I'm enjoying this on behalf of the people of Illinois."
But Burris is not a senator-designate in the eyes of the U.S. Senate and so has no right to walk on the Senate floor to be sworn in Tuesday.
It is a point that Harris said he believes Burris will push when new senators are expected to be sworn in at noon.
"We'll go there and see what transpires," Burris said. "We will present ourselves to be seated. And then we'll take it from there." Asked what would happen if he is turned away from the Senate, Burris said, "Well, my lawyers will take it from there and we'll see what happens."
Senators can allow Burris onto the floor by unanimous consent. It is unclear whether they will. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said it would be very difficult to seat Burris as a Blagojevich appointee, but speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday he did not reject the notion outright.
Reid said he would meet with Burris Wednesday to discuss the matter, but he has called repeatedly on Blagojevich to resign his post and allow a replacement to make the Senate appointment.
Burris said he would work hard to make his case to the Democratic leadership.
"I'm going to sell myself the same way I've sold myself to the people of Illinois. I've represented them for 20 years, in this great state," he said. "And I am a solution to the problem."
Some legal scholars question whether senators have the authority to reject Burris because Blagojevich, who appointed him, is accused by federal prosecutors of trying to sell the appointment to the highest bidder.
The Constitution gives senators the right to be the "judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members."
Despite the potential troubles, Burris said his commitment to the people of Illinois and his experience made him the ideal choice for the state.
"With all of the crises that we have in this state and in this nation ... [Illinois] need[s] to have a full complement of representation, and that's what I'm seeking to do," he said.