Burris Getting Closer to Obama's Senate Seat

New deal could allow Roland Burris to take the Illinois Senate seat.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7, 2009— -- In politics, never say never.

Conversations among Senate Democrats today could lead to a deal to allow Roland Burris to take the Illinois Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, despite the Democrats' statements last week that they would block the man handpicked by the state's scandal-stained governor.

A Democratic source told ABC News that Obama talked to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., about Burris on Monday and urged him to come to "an amicable resolution" with Burris.

Reid and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the senior senator from Illinois, said this morning that Burris was not admitted to the Senate floor Tuesday because he lacked the signature of Illinois' secretary of state on his appointment certificate.

"People ask a lot of times why we have to do various things procedurally here in the Senate," Reid said. "It's because we're the Senate; that's how we operate."

At another press conference later this afternoon, Reid and Durbin attempted to steer the conversation to their plans for passing legislation this year, but reporters questions continued to focus on Burris and whether he will be seated.

One reporter asked the Democratic leaders if they had been outfoxed by the Illinois governor?

"How are we supposed to react? We reacted in a very reasonable way," Reid answered.

They insisted that the onus is on Burris to make clear that this appointment is not tainted by the political scandal surrounding his appointer, Reid said.

"The senator from Illinois has to satisfy not only us, but the people of Illinois, that this is a fair deal," Reid added. "And that's what we're working on right now."

Reid and Durbin's argument -- that they have thus far blocked Burris from the Senate floor because his appointment lacks the signature of the secretary of the state of Illinois -- was challenged today.

This afternoon, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White told a Chicago radio station that his signature was "not required" for the U.S. Senate to seat Burris, and he agreed with the suggestion that the U.S. Senate was making Burris a "fall guy."

White and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan responded to Burris' motion with the Illinois Supreme Court to order White to sign and seal his appointment to the U.S. Senate by Blagojevich, saying that the secretary's signature is not required by law to seat Burris in the Senate and that it is only recommended by a Senate rule.

"The Secretary has performed all of his legal duties regarding the Burris appointment," the filing read. "Nothing remains to be done by the Secretary to complete the appointment process and to enable the U.S. Senate to seat Burris. ... The Secretary has performed all of his legal duties and the ultimate determination whether to seat petitioner Burris lies with the U.S. Senate. That, too, is where the petitioners' remedy lies."

Burris, who was tapped by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill the vacancy, returned to Capitol Hill today after he was barred from entering the Senate floor Tuesday.

Burris met with Reid and Durbin at 10:30 a.m. today to work out a deal that would pave the way for Illinois' first black attorney general to step into the vacant Senate seat.

In a press conference this afternoon, Burris said he was pleased with the meeting and denied having any information about Blagojevich's wiretapping scandal.

Responding to questions on whether supporters had actually made calls to Blagojevich on his behalf, Burris laughingly responded, "If they did, it was certainly no 'pay to play' involved, because I don't have no money."

When asked whether the senators were offering him a deal to be senator in return for his promise not to run in the 2010 re-election, Burris denied knowing anything about that.

"I want to know where this information comes from. This wasn't even on their radar screen; they haven't even bought it up," he said. "I got these rumors about conditions. ... It didn't come up."

Reid and Durbin emerged from the 45-minute conference with Burris to say that the meeting was "positive" and that Burris is a fine fellow, but he is not yet eligible for the Illinois Senate seat.

"Roland Burris to me appears to be candid and forthright. ... He is not trying to avoid any responsibility or hide anything. ... We don't have a problem with him as an individual," Reid said. "[But] we want to do what we can do to make sure that everything has been done in the Blagojevich hours is transparent."

The senators said Burris had prepared an affidavit, and that the process is likely to be expedited once he has appeared before Blagojevich's investigation committee and received all the necessary approvals. The Illinois Supreme Court is now considering whether to compel the secretary of state to sign, and Durbin said he called the court to urge a quick decision and was assured a decision would be reached today or Thursday.

"We believe that the certificate by the secretary of state is vital to comply with Senate rules. We'll reassess where we are when that's done," Reid said.

Reid said that, ultimately, the full Senate would need to vote on whether to seat Burris.

The two also brought up the topic of race, emphasizing that Burris agreed the issue was not about race. If Burris joins the Senate, he will be its only African American senator.

Burris is set to testify before the House impeachment committee in Illinois Thursday, but clearing the other hurdle may not be so easy. The Illinois secretary of state has filed objections with the Illinois Supreme Court to Burris' motion.


ABC News' George Stephanopoulos reported earlier that the deal could involve giving the seat to Burris if he agrees not to run for reelection in 2010 because of concerns that he couldn't win that race for the Democrats.

But Burris denied there was a deal, saying he had never heard of one.

According to Stephanopoulos, the lieutenant governor of Illinois has indicated that he could go along with that deal, but there are no signs that Burris would accept the terms.

Even if he does accept, it remains to be seen whether Burris would keep the promise not to run in 2010.

Responding to questions on whether he would run in 2010, Burress said, "Well, now let me get my Senate legs under me, and get in and raise some money for all this stuff we've been doing, and get in and get settled and learn where the bathrooms are."

Reid and other Senate Democrats had earlier vowed not to seat anyone appointed by Blagojevich.

"President-elect Obama agreed with us that Mr. Burris is tainted, not as a result of anything that he's done wrong," Reid said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. "There's -- I don't know a thing wrong with Mr. Burris. It's not the person that has been appointed; it's the appointee. ... There is a cloud over Blagojevich, and at this stage, a cloud over the state of Illinois. ... And if, as long as Blagojevich has done the appointing, it's really a tainted appointment."

After being booted from the Senate Tuesday, Burris, who dubbed himself the "the junior senator from the state of Illinois," said at a news conference that he is "not seeking to have any type of confrontation."

His attorney, Tim Wright, added that Burris' rejection was improper and "against the law of the land." He said that one option would be to file in the District Court, but that it was up to Burris to decide.

"The state of Illinois has been illegally disenfranchised and denied full representation in the United States Senate when earlier today senator appointee Roland Burris, D-Ill., was prevented from being sworn in to his legally appointed position by the United States secretary of the Senate clerk and sergeant of arms," read a statement from the Burris team.

Burris got a boost from at least one Democrat Tuesday. Senate Rules Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., indicated that she believes Blagojevich still has the power to appoint Burris and that the Senate should respect that appointment.

"Gray Davis was able to be recalled as governor and still make gubernatorial appointments, so as long as you have the power, the power exists," said Feinstein, who is a potential California governor candidate.

Feinstein, who is the incoming chairwoman of the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence, also grabbed headlines Tuesday for expressing displeasure that she was not consulted by Obama's transition team on Leon Panetta's possible appointment for CIA director.

Senators' Authority Unclear

As the Blagojevich investigation continues, it is unclear whether senators have the right to reject Burris. Election law attorneys have said that senators may not have the constitutional power to refuse to admit Burris into the Senate without some indication that his appointment was corrupt.

The Burris drama is also complicated because it touches on the politics of race. In an almost all-white U.S. Senate, the image of a black politician being banned from the Senate floor injects a new twist to the scandal over Obama's seat.

Burris will return to Chicago after his meeting with Reid and Durbin, and will appear before the Illinois House Special Investigative Committee Thursday afternoon to testify about Blagojevich.

ABC News' Matt Jaffe contributed to the report.

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