- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2009
UPDATED:

The Senate’s top Democrat would not rule out Sunday the possibility of seating Roland Burris, saying he will meet with Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich’s choice to succeed President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday while insisting the Senate had the constitutional right to reject him over the scandal surrounding Mr. Blagojevich.

Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada also denied charges of racism, based on reports over the weekend that he had told Mr. Blagojevich before the governor’s arrest that several black candidates would be unacceptable and had pushed two women, neither black.

When David Gregory, host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” concluded an interview segment with “there sounds to me like there may be some room here to negotiate and actually seat Burris,” Mr. Reid agreed.

“There is always room to negotiate,” the Nevada senator said. While “it’s going to be very difficult for that to occur, I have learned, being a senator for the time I have, that anything can happen.”

The appointment of Mr. Burris has become a major point of contention in the Blagojevich corruption scandal, which includes claims that Illinois’ Democratic governor tried to sell Mr. Obama’s vacant Senate seat.

The entire Senate Democratic Caucus warned Mr. Blagojevich soon after his arrest that “under no circumstance” would it accept anyone he appointed and cited a constitutional provision that the Senate determines its members’ qualifications. But the governor appointed Mr. Burris last week anyway.

The majority leader stood by that threat on Sunday’s talk shows, calling Mr. Blagojevich “a corrupt individual.” “We determine who sits in the Senate,” Mr. Reid said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, will meet with Mr. Reid on Monday evening.

Mr. Burris, a former Illinois attorney general, is scheduled to arrive in Washington on Monday and present himself at the Senate swearing-in on Tuesday, where the appointment is expected to be referred to the Rules Committee.

On Sunday night, Mr. Burris took the stage at New Covenant Church in Chicago and thanked the hundreds of supporters, including black leaders and ministers, who gathered at a prayer service, the Associated Press reported. “The appointment is legal,” he said. “That is all there is. I don’t know what all the confusion is about.”

Before the service, Burris supporter Rep. Bobby L. Rush and about 60 ministers condemned Senate Democratic leaders for rejecting Mr. Burris.

Mr. Reid dismissed the entire Burris appointment as a Blagojevich smoke screen, though he reiterated that this was not a judgment on Mr. Burris. He said he and Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, also of Illinois, will meet Wednesday with Mr. Burris.

“What [Mr. Blagojevich has] done is divert attention from [his] arrest … and the indictment, which will be coming in a few days, according to the U.S. attorney in Illinois,” he said.

Mr. Durbin acknowledged on ABC’s “This Week” that Mr. Blagojevich is still the governor of Illinois and has the authority to fill the vacancy, but said “the Senate of the United States has the U.S. constitutional responsibility to decide if Mr. Burris was chosen in a proper manner, and that is what we’re going to do.”

According to a weekend report in the Chicago Sun-Times, Mr. Reid called Mr. Blagojevich to discuss the seat Dec. 3 and discouraged him from appointing Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., Rep. Danny K. Davis and retiring state Senate President Emil Jones, and encouraged the governor to pick state Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth and state Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

On NBC Sunday, Mr. Reid acknowledged that he talked with Mr. Blagojevich before his arrest, but dismissed the report as “part of Blagojevich’s cloud. He is making all this up.”