Reid to Meet With Burris as Showdown Looms

Majority leader seeks to head off Blago appointee's attempt to take Senate seat.

January 3, 2009, 3:04 PM

Jan. 3, 2008 -- Arrangements are under way for a Wednesday meeting between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Roland Burris, the Democrat tapped by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to succeed President-elect Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate, ABC News has learned.

Burris confidant and business partner Fred Lebed of Chicago tells ABC News that, despite the opposition of Senate leaders, Burris is on track to arrive in Washington Monday, and on Capitol Hill, Tuesday.

"He intends to be sworn in and seated in the U.S. Senate," said Lebed, who added that Burris and his "staff" are "looking forward to get sworn in, seated, and to roll up our sleeves."

When Burris arrives at the doors of the U.S. Senate next week, says Lebed, "he will have a few close friends and supporters with him. he is very careful and has cautioned me to make sure this is not a spectacle."

The Senate sergeant at arms, Chief Terry Gainer, expressed confidence that a confrontation on the Hill can be avoided, according to a Democratic Senate aide. The aide said the Senate majority whip, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, is working behind the scenes to set up the meeting between Burris and Reid.

Reid released a Dec. 30 statement saying that Burris would not be seated.

"It is truly regrettable that despite requests from all 50 Democratic Senators and public officials throughout Illinois, Gov. Blagojevich would take the imprudent step of appointing someone to the United States Senate who would serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of impropriety," the statement said.

"We say this without prejudice toward Roland Burris' ability, and we respect his years of public service. But this is not about Mr. Burris; it is about the integrity of a governor accused of attempting to sell this United States Senate seat. Under these circumstances, anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus."

Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on conspiracy charges connected to his alleged solicitation of political favors or campaign contributions in exchange for the Senate appointment. Shortly after his arrest the governor convened a press conference denying culpability and vowing not to give up his post.

Senate Democratic leaders promise to use procedural obstacles to prevent Burris from taking the seat. They believe that corruption charges against Blagojevich nullify the Burris appointment. And they assert that they are exercising their rights under the Constitution, Article 1, Section 5, which states: "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members."

"There is no precedent to allow [Burris] on the floor" without credentials, the aide said.

A report in the Chicago Sun-Times Saturday indicated that Reid had been closely involved in the appointment process before Blagojevich's indictment. The majority leader reportedly asked Blagojevich not to appoint Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to the seat over concerns about Jackson's political viability and whether he would lose to a Republican challenger in a future election.

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