WASHINGTON – As Senate leadership developed an elaborate set of contingency plans Wednesday to keep Roland Burris from taking over Barack Obama’s seat, the disputed appointee promised not to “create a scene” when the Senate convenes next week.
If Burris shows up Tuesday to claim the seat given to him by disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the potential outcomes range from a denial of entry to a limbo where he can hire staff but not vote.
On Wednesday, Burris’ lawyers took the first court legal action in what could be a prolonged court fight, seeking to force a reluctant Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to certify Blagojevich’s paperwork making the appointment.
Should Burris appear in Washington without that certification, armed police officers stand ready to bar him from the Senate floor, said a Democratic official briefed on Senate leaders’ plans.
Leadership also is considering the possibility of Blagojevich appearing in person to escort Burris. Ironically, the scandal-plagued governor would be allowed onto the Senate floor, since sitting governors are allowed floor privileges, while Burris would not without certification. Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero said the governor had not decided whether he will appear in Washington next week with Burris.
Democratic leaders hope to avoid any standoff, and in an interview with the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday, Burris said he hoped to claim the Senate seat without added drama.
“We’re not going to create a scene in Washington,” Burris said. “We hope it’s negotiated out prior to my going to Washington.”
Senate leaders have expressed no willingness to negotiate, and have vowed to bar anyone appointed by Blagojevich because of his alleged attempt to sell Obama’s seat.
First, they hope Burris is stalled on a matter of paperwork. Senate rules require that an incoming senator’s selection be certified by the secretary of state for his home state, and White declined to sign the certification.
Burris responded later Wednesday by filing a petition with the Illinois Supreme Court challenging White’s refusal and asking justices to compel him to do his prescribed duty.
“The secretary of state cannot veto an action by simply not signing the document,” Burris said. “He doesn’t have that authority. He must do his job.”
Justices on Illinois’ highest court gave no indication when it will take up the issue. If Burris prevails, it could allow him to present valid paperwork to the U.S. Senate, and perhaps give leaders one less reason to reject him.
Senate Democrats also have a follow-up plan: Refusing to seat Burris until the Senate Rules Committee completes an investigation into whether the appointment process was tainted by corruption. Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on federal charges that he tried to sell the Senate seat.
The plan is for the Senate committee investigation to extend longer than the Illinois impeachment process under way against Blagojevich, leaving open the possibility that a new governor would make a rival Senate appointment. The end game Democratic leaders are considering is to then seat the new governor’s choice. That would, conceivably, allow the Senate to accept the new appointee without going through the formal process of explicitly voting to reject Burris.