CHICAGO — It appears that an agreement is in the works that may allow former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to be seated as the next U.S. senator from Illinois, filling President-elect Barack Obama’s vacant seat.
Burris was denied entry at Capitol Hill Jan. 6, as he tried to occupy the seat for the opening of the 111th Congress.
Burris, the first African-American elected to office in Illinois, as comptroller and later as attorney general, was appointed to fill the seat by embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Blagojevich was arrested last month and faces criminal charges for allegedly trying to sell the Senate seat to the highest bidder.
Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson said Burris could not be seated Jan. 6 because the signature of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White was missing next to Blagojevich’s on his letter of appointment. White had said he would not sign the document due to the charges against Blagojevich.
Burris is not implicated in the alleged “pay to play” schemes, and Democratic leaders say they do not deny Burris’ impressive track record or his ability to serve in the Senate.
Obama and the Democratic leadership have said for weeks that because Blagojevich faces criminal charges his credibility as governor has been stripped and if he were to appoint someone to the vacant senate seat, it would not be legitimate. Democrats continue to press for the governor to step down. Blagojevich denies any wrongdoing and says he will remain in office and fight his case till the bitter end.
The Illinois general assembly is moving to impeach Blagojevich, which many say will be by a unanimous vote.
Burris and his supporters say that, despite the cloud hanging over Blagojevich, his appointment is legal and he should be seated. He would be the only African American in the Senate.
Talks between Burris and Senate Democratic leaders were set for this week, and it is reported that a process may be worked out that would enable Burris to assume the seat.
Don Rose, a veteran Chicago political consultant who worked with Burris dating back to the civil rights era, said Burris would be a “fine progressive vote, one of the top 10 in the Senate.”
Burris’s “heart is in the right place” especially on important issues facing working people, Rose said. “Democrats could use his vote right now.”
Blagojevich, he said, “pulled a fast one” by shrewdly appointing Burris, embarrassing the Democratic leadership.
Democrats are trying to punish Blagojevich by not seating Burris, Rose commented. “It’s all dirty tricks,” he said. “They are trying to stall the situation until Blagojevich is impeached.”
If Blagojevich does get impeached, then the appointment of Burris would be invalidated, Rose noted. But at the moment Blagojevich is legally innocent, Rose said, and therefore the secretary of state’s refusal to sign the appointment papers was unconstitutional.
He said federal authorities had acted prematurely by arresting Blagojevich. That suggestion is bolstered by the fact that prosecutors have now been granted an extra three months to seek an indictment.