Barack Obama’s appointed successor declared Tuesday he’s qualified to take a seat in the Senate and said he’ll go to Capitol Hill to do just that.
“I’m presenting myself as the legally appointed senator from the state of Illinois. It is my hope and prayer that they recognize that the appointment is legal,” Roland Burris said in a nationally broadcast interview just hours before the Senate convenes with the start of the 111th Congress.
Burris dismissed the Senate Democratic leadership’s position that he cannot be seated because he was appointed by a governor accused in a criminal complaint of trying to benefit financially from his authority to fill the seat that Obama vacated after winning the presidential election.
“As I read the U.S. Constitution,” he said on CBS’s “The Early Show,” it says the “governor shall fill a vacancy, and as a former attorney general of my state, I have no knowledge of where a secretary of state has veto power over a governor carrying out his constitutional duties.”
Burris also maintained that the announcement by Gov. Rod Blagojevich Monday of a date for an election for a successor to Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., proves the governor still has legal authority to carry out his duties. Emanuel will be Obama’s White House chief of staff.
“There’s nothing wrong with Roland Burris and there’s nothing wrong with the appointment,” Burris said.
Burris has found little support among fellow Democrats.
The Senate was scheduled to convene at noon Tuesday with its newest members. Yet the controversy over the appointment and the ongoing dispute over election results in Minnesota practically guaranteed that both seats would remain empty by day’s end.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday that Burris would not be permitted to take his seat because Burris “has not been certified by the state of Illinois,” a reference to incomplete paperwork that only touches on the dispute. Senate Democrats maintain that Burris’ appointment is tainted because of the charges against Blagojevich.
While Blagojevich has signed formal appointment papers, Jesse White, the Illinois secretary of state, has not, and Senate rules require that signature. Burris, in turn, has gone to court hoping to win an order for White to sign the necessary paperwork, and he has also threatened to sue to take his seat in the Senate.
Burris, 71, declared, “I’m a United States senator” before leaving Chicago for Washington. However, he is not and cannot be a senator unless he is administered the oath of office.
In spite of his stance, Burris told reporters that he would not make a scene at the Capitol. He was to meet privately on Wednesday with Reid.
Some of Burris’ supporters have bemoaned the fact that Democrats would stand in the way of the Senate gaining its only black member. Burris himself downplayed the issue of race, telling reporters: “I cannot control my supporters. I have never in my life, in all my years of being elected to office, thought anything about race.”
LAURIE KELLMAN, AP