Burris Wins Battle for Illinois Seat

Posted January 12, 2009 at 3:15pm

Updated: 7:22 p.m.

Democrat Roland Burris is expected to be sworn in as the junior Senator from Illinois on Thursday, ending weeks of intraparty wrangling over whether to seat embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s (D) appointee to replace President-elect Barack Obama.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Monday that Burris’ appointment would not face scrutiny in the Rules and Administration Committee, nor would his installment require a full Senate vote. Durbin and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had previously suggested that likelihood because of the circumstances surrounding Burris’ selection as Obama’s successor.

“It would have been difficult to launch an investigation at this point, given everything going on in Illinois. And, in fact, Roland Burris satisfied our requirement,” Durbin told reporters Monday. “I’m sure many people will question his appointment. But now the burden is on Roland Burris to be a good Senator from Illinois, to be effective, to work hard and to dispel that cloud.”

Durbin would not comment on whether Senate Democrats would support Burris in 2010 should he choose to stand for election. Illinois is considered reliably Democratic in statewide races, but Republicans believe the Blagojevich controversy might have provided them with an opening to flip Obama’s old seat when it comes up for election next year.

The decision by Reid and Durbin to finally accept Burris’ appointment was reached Monday afternoon following a meeting between Burris’ lawyers and attorneys for the Senate Parliamentarian and Secretary of the Senate. The two Senate offices determined that the former Illinois attorney general’s appointment papers satisfied Senate rules.

Burris’ selection had been controversial because Blagojevich appointed him after being arrested by federal authorities for, among other things, attempting to sell the seat for political favors. Consequently, Reid and Durbin initially said they would never install anyone appointed by the disgraced governor, who was impeached last week by the Illinois House and now faces a trial in the state Senate.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) has maintained his call for a special election to determine Obama’s Senate successor ever since the Blagojevich scandal broke — a position that in fact mirrored Durbin’s original stance on how the matter should be resolved. On Monday, Cornyn reiterated his position and charged that Senate Democrats were essentially culpable in the Blagojevich scandal.

“Instead of lifting the veil of corruption and giving the people of Illinois a voice in choosing their next Senator, Senate Democrats instead put their personal political interests above the public’s interests,” Cornyn said in a statement. “It’s a dubious beginning to the supposed new era of transparency and bipartisanship that Democrats promised to bring to Washington.”

Senate Republicans, however, are not expected to object to Burris’ installment later this week.

The Secretary of the Senate at first rejected Burris’ appointment because the Illinois secretary of state, Jesse White (D), had not signed off on the certification. Reid and Durbin, citing Senate Rule II, used that fact to support their decision not to seat Burris. Durbin and Reid initially had argued Burris shouldn’t be installed because he had been appointed by a tainted Blagojevich.

Late Friday, White submitted information to the Senate bearing the state seal and his signature. The document stated that the appointment paper signed by Blagojevich “is a true and accurate document setting forth an appointment made by the Governor of the State of Illinois” and was attached to a copy of Blagojevich’s letter of appointment.

A state’s governor and secretary of state usually affix their signatures to a single certification document, but Durbin said the two documents were deemed acceptable. Even before White had signed off on Burris’ appointment — which he originally refused to do — some prominent Senate Democrats had broken with leadership and said Burris had the legal authority to assume office.

Defying Reid and Durbin’s pledges that they would not install him, Burris showed up on Capitol Hill last Tuesday with the intent of being sworn in with the rest of the 111th Congress. Though he was not seated, he met a day later with Reid and Durbin, who, under public pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus and Senators such as outgoing Rules and Administration Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), indicated they were likely to seat him once the certification issue was worked out.

In a joint statement from Reid and Durbin released Monday afternoon, the two lawmakers said Burris had met the standards to win appointment, saying that “barring objections from Senate Republicans, we expect Senator-designee Burris to be sworn in and formally seated later this week. We are working with him and the office of the Vice President to determine the date and time of the swearing-in.”

“As we had outlined to Mr. Burris, a path needed to be followed that respects the rules of the Senate,” the two leaders said. “We committed to Mr. Burris that once those requirements were satisfied, we would be able to proceed. We are pleased that everything is now in order, we congratulate Senator-designee Burris on his appointment and we look forward to working with him in the 111th Congress.”