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What a Week for Burris

POSTED: 12:55 PM ET, 01/ 7/2009 by Derek Kravitz


Senate officials had rejected former Illinois attorney general Roland W. Burris's attempt to be seated as the successor to President-elect Barack Obama, saying he lacked the approval of state officials to be sworn in with the 111th Congress. Now, they appear to have a change of heart.

It's been a whirlwind week for Roland W. Burris, the ex-attorney general from Illinois who was selected by embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill the president-elect's vacant Senate seat.

Blagojevich, who has been charged with allegedly trying to sell that very Senate seat, is embroiled in one of the biggest political scandals in recent memory. He has rebuffed calls to step down. And Senate Democrats had said that they won't seat any candidate appointed by the first-term governor.

It started before the New Year, amid a firestorm of controversy over Burris's selection as the Illinois' Senator-elect. It may end with his increasingly likely seating as Illinois' junior senator as Democrats hatch out a plan to avoid any further embarassment.

Here's a look back at the past week and how Burris's chances went from "virtually nil" to somewhat certain:

Tuesday, Dec. 30: Burris, a three-time losing candidate for governor who had wondered aloud in 2002 whether he had reached a "concrete ceiling" for blacks in Illinois state government, is surprisingly pegged by Blagojevich to fill President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat.

Burris has connections to both Blagojevich and Obama in the kissing-cousin state of Illinois politics. He once held a fundraiser at his house for Obama and calls the president-elect "somebody whose career I really helped launch." And since losing to Blagojevich in the Illinois Democratic primary in 2002 in the race for governor, Burris became friends with the public servant in his role as a lobbyist.

At a Chicago press conference, Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) asks the public not to "lynch" Burris because of the charges against the governor.

Obama releases a statement soon after, saying Burris should not get the seat and arguing that Illinois is "entitled to. . .major decisions free of taint and controversy."

Blagojevich, in arguing for the appointment, says, "As governor, I am required to make this appointment. If I don't make this appointment, then the people of Illinois will be deprived of their appropriate voice and vote in the United States Senate."

A collection of Burris's comments about Blagojevich and the scandal surrounding the governor, before and after he was selected as Illinois' Senator-elect

Wednesday, Dec. 31: Rep. Danny K. Davis, a six-term Democrat from Illinois, tells the Associated Press that he met with a Blagojevich emissary twice in the previous week about an offer to take the Senate seat. After thinking it over, Davis said he turned down the appointment on Sunday.

"I thought the environment had been poisoned," Davis said. "The environment was just a bit too murky, and it was not the kind of environment I would want to go into the Senate with."

Black lawmakers offer mixed support for Burris's appointment. A media blitz ensues, in which Burris tells CNN's "American Morning:" "I don't look upon the governor's problem as my problem."

Senate Democrats, including Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) insist that Blagojevich is too scandal-tarred to make any appointment feasible.

Friday, Jan. 2: Burris files another legal motion to try to force state officials to recognize his appointment, which would allow him to take his fight to the Capitol in time for the start of the 111th Congress.

Saturday, Jan. 3: Blagojevich claims Reid has a conflict of interest in the Burris case, citing a telephone call in early December between the two men to discuss the seat. A Reid spokesman calls the assertion "absolutely ridiculous."

Sunday, Jan. 4: The embarrassing episode continues on the talk-show circuit. Reid refuses to back down, saying that Burris's chances to get the seat appear virtualy nil. "It's going to be very difficult for that to occur," Reid says on NBC's "Meet the Press."

But he adds: "I'm an old trial lawyer. Anything can happen."

Burris remains defiant, saying he considers the matter settled but for the formalities.

"The appointment is legal. I am the junior senator from the state of Illinois," he said. "The next step in the process is to be sworn in."

Monday, Jan. 5: Burris vows to appear before the U.S. Senate on Tuesday to assume Obama's seat. "There's nothing wrong with Roland Burris and there's nothing wrong with the appointment," he says.

Tuesday, Jan. 6: The Senate Showdown. Burris shows up on Capitol Hill on a damp and dreary day and gets turned away at the door.

Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer, an old friend of Burris's, hugs him but refuses to seat him in the Senate. A 20-minute meeting with Nancy Erickson, the Senate secretary, goes nowhere. Burris walks calmly out of the Capitol.

Still, with the flash bulbs flashing and the sideshow spectacle raging, a tide seems to turn.

Reid (D-Nev.) and Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) say they would meet with Burris today on Capitol Hill. The Congressional Black Caucus says it will hold internal discussions about whether it should put its weight behind Burris's bid. Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) broke ranks to back Burris yesterday afternoon.

By Derek Kravitz |  January 7, 2009; 12:55 PM ET
Previous: Transparency and the 9/11 Trials, Coal Ash Dump Regulations, Delhi Firm Admits Major Fraud | Next: Two Richardson Aides Are Focus of Probe

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