Senate Democrats struggled to avert a showdown steeped in race and corruption Monday as a defiant Roland Burris declared, “I’m a United States senator” despite boiling controversy over his appointment to President-elect Barack Obama‘s seat in Congress.
Several officials said it was out of the question that Burris would be sworn into office on Tuesday when other new lawmakers take the oath of office. The officials cited incomplete paperwork, but the dispute was far deeper than that. Burris was named last week by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who faces charges of having attempted to sell the seat.
By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent
Illinois U.S. Senate appointee Roland Burris holds a news conference at Chicago’s Midway airport Monday, Jan. 5, 2009, before leaving for Washington for a high-stakes showdown on Capitol Hill about whether he’ll succeed President-elect Barack Obama in Congress. Burris was appointed last week by embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Burris has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but Senate Democrats expressed the hope that the veteran Illinois Democrat would not violate protocol by attempting to walk uninvited into the chamber. They spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to address the matter publicly.
At the same time, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., appeared to leave open the possibility of a compromise after having failed to persuade Blagojevich to leave the seat vacant. Burris is scheduled to meet privately on Wednesday with the majority leader in his office a few paces off the Senate floor.
Burris, who is black, downplayed the issue of race at a news conference before boarding a flight from Chicago to Washington — even though supporters have given it prominence.
“I cannot control my supporters. I have never in my life, in all my years of being elected to office, thought anything about race,” he said.
As for Senate Democratic leaders, thus far unwilling to allow him to be seated, he said, “I am a United States senator. They can’t stop me from doing my senatorial duties.”
In fact, he is not, and cannot be unless he is administered the oath of office.
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