CHICAGO – Support for Illinois U.S. Sen. Roland Burris crumbled from Illinois to Washington on Friday as top Democrats pushed for his ouster: Gov. Patrick Quinn called for his resignation, his chief of staff walked out the door and the White House urged him to use the weekend to contemplate “what lays in his future.”
But Burris, barely a month in office following his appointment by tarnished ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, showed no immediate signs of stepping down at the end of a politically damaging week. Self-admitted and media-uncovered disclosures left questions about his truthfulness in sworn statements and testimony to state lawmakers and comments to the public about the steps he took to ingratiate himself with Blagojevich.
The new demands for Burris to quit from Quinn, Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, D-Ill. – along with the ominous-sounding advice provided by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs – left Burris in political quarantine. It also displayed Democrats overcoming concerns that seeking to oust the man who was the first black to hold statewide elected office in Illinois would offend the party’s core African-American constituency.
Moreover, the decision by Burris’ interim chief of staff, Darrell Thompson, to quit and rejoin his full-time post as a senior adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., demonstrated a lack of confidence by leading Senate Democrats in Burris’ ability to withstand continued questioning over how he got the seat. Burris faces a perjury investigation in Springfield, Ill., and a preliminary inquiry by the Senate Ethics Committee.
At the White House, Gibbs stopped short of saying Obama wants Burris to step down. But Gibbs cited the varying testimony and statements in saying, “It might be important for Sen. Burris to take some time this weekend to either correct what has been said and certainly think of what lays in his future.”
In Chicago, Quinn was more direct at a news conference where he called for Burris to step down quickly.
“I would ask my good friend, Sen. Roland Burris, to put the interests of the people of the Land of Lincoln first and foremost, ahead of his own, and step aside and resign from his office,” Quinn said.