WH To Burris: Think Again

CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Friday that Roland Burris should resign from the Senate and the vacancy should then be filled by a special election, injecting fresh momentum in the growing campaign to oust the man picked to fill President Barack Obama’s Senate seat.

The White House also offered tough words on Burris Friday, with press secretary Robert Gibbs saying President Obama supports an investigation and that Burris should use this weekend to “think of what lays in his future.”

Before 15 television cameras and a packed news conference here in downtown, Quinn said Burris — a man he’s known for 37 years — is under a “cloud” over the circumstances of his appointment and could no longer be an effective senator for Illinois.

“We should put the interests of the people of Illinois ahead of his own,” Quinn said. “It takes a great deal of fortitude and courage to do that. I think people will recognize that. It’s never easy to step aside and resign from anything in life.

“Under the current circumstances, where our state needs a strong voice in Washington on so many different issues, I don’t think it’s in the public interest or the common good to have a U.S. senator who has to spend an undue amount of time going over and over matters on how he obtained the office,” he added.

Quinn’s adamant call for Burris’ resignation greatly increases the pressure on the rookie senator, but it still does not change the fundamental fact that it will be near impossible to force Burris out if he chooses to ride out this storm.

Asked whether Burris will resign, a person close to the senator said: "No chance. Expect him in D.C. next week."

The White House has stopped short of outright calling for Burris to resign, but White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Obama “is supportive of an investigation that would get some full story out.”

“And I think it might be important for Senator Burris to take some time this weekend to either correct what has been said and — and certainly think of what lays in his future,” Gibbs said.

Asked, if Burris lied, Gibbs said, “that's a question for Mr. Burris.”

Quinn, who called Burris an “honorable” man, is now asking state lawmakers to set a special election, but a similar bill stalled in the legislature late last year and led to Burris’ appointment by the impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Under Quinn’s proposal, within 72 days a primary would occur — and there would be another six weeks until a special general election is held. In meantime, Quinn would appoint a temporary senator, but to avoid picking a favorite, he said he would only appoint a caretaker, not someone who would run in the special election.

When asked if Burris could be that temporary senator, Quinn said: “I don’t think so.”

Some state Republicans have called on Quinn and the Legislature to effectively force Burris out by using authority under the Constitution’s 17th Amendment, which says states can empower governors to make temporary Senate appointments until a special election occurs. But Quinn said attempting to force Burris out is not his preferred approach, saying, “it’s not a clear legal issue,” which would be litigated in the courts.

Quinn, who did not attempt to speak to Burris before his Friday announcement, now joins a chorus of state legislators and two Democratic House members in calling on Burris to resign, saying his Jan. 8 answers before a state legislative committee defied the public's trust about the appointment.

Quinn is now the highest ranking official to call on Burris to quit the Senate, though nobody in the U.S. Senate has asked for Burris to step down. Senate leaders have fully embraced an ethics inquiry into whether Burris lied about is entanglements with Blagojevich, who was arrested in December for — in part — attempting to enrich himself through the Senate appointment. Nobody in the Senate has offered any words of support for Burris.

“I believe he will do the right thing and resign,” Quinn said.

But Burris has so far remained defiant, saying he's done nothing wrong while promising he'd fully cooperate with state and federal probes about the circumstances of his appointment by Blagojevich. In fact, he resumed his duties in meeting with constituents Friday morning, touring a Veterans Affairs hospital and naval training center in the city’s northern suburbs. And his advisers say that he’ll return to Washington next week and continue to vote on legislation.

Burris’ political problems have grown since last Saturday when news broke that he submitted an affidavit to state legislators saying he had spoken with six contacts of the governor, including Blagojevich’s brother, Rob, who asked him to raise money for the governor’s campaign coffers. When he testified on Jan. 8, Burris only disclosed one contact — and on Jan. 5 when he submitted another affidavit about his contacts, he said he had no contacts with the governor’s associates.

Two days later, Burris told reporters he tried unsuccessfully to raise money for the governor, prompting even more calls for his resignation. With this news, the Senate Ethics Committee launched inquiry, which may take weeks or months to complete. A state prosecutor is now reviewing whether he lied under oath during his testimony.

But Burris has said the only reason for his new affidavit was to simply clarify his previous statements – insisting that he did not raise any money for the governor or do anything improper in making his interest known for the seat.

Quinn said that Burris should have originally disclosed all his contacts in the Jan. 5 affidavit, calling “that failure … very serious.” And he said that Burris made a “big big mistake” in accepting the Dec. 30 appointment from Blagojevich. Quinn also criticized the Senate for agreeing to seat him. Democratic leaders initially refused to seat Burris, saying they did not want to seat a Blagojevich appointee, but ultimately relented.

If Burris were to resign immediately, Quinn said he would “withhold” making an appointment until the law was passed by the legislature. If Burris resigns, he would talk to “every member” of the legislature and urge that the special election law is passed swiftly.

“I would ask my good friend, Sen. Roland Burris, to put the interest in the people of the Land of Lincoln first and foremost ahead of his own and step aside and resign from his office, and allow the legislature to pass a law very quickly.”

Jonathan Martin and Carol E. Lee contributed to this story.
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