Burris, Rejected by Senate, 'Weighs Options'

Burris will go to court to force the Senate to recognize his appointment.

January 6, 2009, 10:24 AM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2009— -- 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.

Burris' Senate Appointment Blocked

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.

Burris hoped he would be among the new senators sworn in today at noon on Capitol Hill, but several lawmakers said he did not have permission to join the new class.

Arriving in Washington Monday, Burris was adamant about his right to be there, but the still-sitting Illinois senator is one person who believes otherwise.

Durbin invited Burris to his Capitol Hill office to watch the new senators sworn in on television, and said Burris was not eligible because his appointment had not been signed by the Illinois secretary of state. He also said that even if the secretary of state was compelled to sign the appointment, its legality would be challenged in the Senate Rules Committee.

"Well, of course Roland Burris has not been certified by the state of Illinois," Reid said Monday. "When that takes place, we'll of course review it. At this stage we're waiting to see what's going to happen in Illinois."

Burris Determined to Join Senate

Still, Burris Monday remained adamant that the seat is his -- despite the Senate parliamentarian's formal rejection of his claim to the Senate seat.

"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."

Burris also said the law is on his side, despite the parliamentarian's move.

"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."

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."

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.

Senators can allow Burris onto the Senate floor by unanimous consent. It is unclear whether they will.

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."

ABC News' Lisa Chinn and Kate Barrett contributed to this report.

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