Democratic leaders are not going to seat Roland Burris immediately, but are waiting for the outcome of pending court cases and Burris’ testimony in the impeachment of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich before signing off on his entry into the Senate.
All of this could unfold before the end of the week.
After a 45 minute meeting Wednesday morning, Majority Leader Harry Reid and Majority Whip Dick Durbin emerged without a deal, yet seem perilously close to saying Burris was very likely to prevail.
“This was a positive meeting and it moves us forward,” Durbin said.
Reid said there’s a lot riding on Burris’ testimony in the impeachment case, and if the Illinois’ Secretary of State is forced to certify the appointment, that changes the situation. After that, there would be a full Senate vote.
“Once that’s done, we’ll be in a different position to see what we’re going to do,” Reid said. “There’s going to come a time where the entire Senate will have to act on this and that time will come sooner rather than later.”
The Associated Press reported a deal had been made, but two Senate Democratic aides, in interviews with Politico are disputing the report that there has been a deal. The report is "wrong," said Reid spokesman Jim Manley. In a press conference this morning, President-elect Barack Obama declined to take a position on whether to seat Burris. Burris himself is planning two more press conferences today – one at the Hyatt on Capitol Hill and one back in Chicago after he flies home to testify in the impeachment proceedings against Blagojevich.
If there is an eventual deal, it would be an extraordinary turnabout by Senate Democrats. But the momentum has been growing toward a deal on Burris, as more Democrats were becoming uncomfortable with the situation and Burris seemed to have serious political and legal momentum. No details of the meeting have been released. Reid, Durbin and Burris were scheduled to meet from 10:30 to 11 a.m. today.
One aide said one complicating factor to reaching a deal is the fact the Burris is scheduled to testify at Blagojevich's impeachment proceedings in Springfield on Thursday.
Seating him Wednesday before those hearings could be problematic if embarrassing details emerge, the aide said.
As the critical meeting unfolded, another Democrat, Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, asserted Wednesday that Burris should be seated in the Senate, becoming the second Senate Democrat to publicly break from party leaders on the controversial appointment.
In an interview, Feingold said Democratic arguments that Burris should be denied a seat because he was appointed by the scandal-tainted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich are weak.
"There's a growing sense that there is a prety flimsy basis to deny what is clearly a legal appointment," said Feingold. "Despite the controversy, we can't go down the road of having essentially a few subjective considerations to decide who gets seated. That would be an affront to states and their laws."
On Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said not appointing Burris would undermine gubenatorial appointments.
"So I think it's clear that it appears like a glacier at this point that the movement is in the direction of what is the basis for denying this man a Senate seat," Feingold added.
Burris, the 71-year-old black former state legislator, says his appointment is legal despite charges that the governor tried to sell the open Senate seat.