Blagojevich pick to be given few privileges
Published: Friday, January 2, 2009 at 4:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 2, 2009 at 4:48 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Democratic leaders plan to grant few if any privileges next week to Roland Burris, the man picked by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate, even if he arrives on Capitol Hill with the right credentials.
Senate officials involved in the tangle of legal and logistical planning said Friday that a Democrat will object to Burris being duly sworn with the rest of his class, and propose that his credentials be reviewed for a period of time by the Rules Committee.
The only way Burris will be allowed on the floor is if he possesses a certification of appointment signed personally by his embattled patron, Blagojevich, and Ill. Secretary of State Jesse White. Burris would then be treated as a senator-elect, which by tradition means he'll be allowed on the Senate floor without voting or speaking privileges - and he wouldn't be granted a desk, according to these officials. They demanded anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The man charged with letting people through the door of the chamber, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, said he expects the two sides to work out a deal before Tuesday.
Gainer has known Burris since their days in Illinois law enforcement, when Burris was attorney general and Gainer was the director of the state police.
"I have known Roland Burris for a number of years," Gainer said in a telephone interview. "He is a good man. He plays by the rules. I don't think there's going to be a confrontation."
Whatever the drama, Burris will not be seated when the new Senate convenes on Tuesday, Democrats have said all week.
Republicans have been wary about commenting, pleased to see Democrats mucking through a political mess of their own party's making.
Bur Republican Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona said Friday that he wants to review state and federal law before opining on whether Burris should be seated. Still, he questioned whether the legal status of the patron is enough reason to block the appointee.
"The Senate has to be very careful of setting a precedent that just because it doesn't like the governor that appointed (Burris) we therefore refuse to seat a qualified appointee," Kyl said in a telephone interview.
Privately, Democrats have been busily charting out the choreography for Burris' arrival, conscious of the racial sensitivity involved with blocking Burris from becoming the Senate's only black member. And there is significant debate over whether the Senate has any legal standing to turn away a person who meets the Constitution's qualifications for serving in the chamber.
Senate Democrats believe the Constitution and their agenda-setting power gives them the tools for a slow-motion rejection of Burris' credentials if they are not signed, in person, by both the governor and White, who has refused to certify anyone Blagojevich appoints.
Blagojevich has been accused by a federal prosecutor of trying to sell Obama's seat. Senate Democrats in Washington are hoping that the governor will be long gone by the time the Rules Committee report is presented on Burris' credentials.
The Illinois House is set to convene on Wednesday and could impeach Blagojevich within a few days. A trial in the state Senate would follow.
The corruption charges against Blagojevich that he tried to sell Obama's seat strip credibility from anyone appointed by the governor, according to Democrats and Obama. Republicans have called for a special election.
The way Senate Democrats see it, Tuesday's drama unfolds in one of two ways, both involving a phone call by Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson to White, to confirm that he has or has not signed the certification.
In one scenario, Burris appears at the Capitol with his certification signed personally by Blagojevich and White — either because a court forced White to sign, or for some other reason. White confirms that he has personally signed the certificate. Burris would then be permitted on the Senate floor.
Vice President Dick Cheney, as president of the Senate, would ask whether anyone objects to the senators-elect being duly sworn. A Democrat would then object and propose that Burris' credentials be referred to the Rules Committee for an investigation of some period of time. If no one objects to that motion, the credentials go to the panel for a period of perhaps 90 days.
Burris in the meantime gets the privileges of an unsworn senator-elect, which does not come with a pay check, these officials said. The hope is that Blagojevich will be tossed from office and a new governor will have appointed someone else to the seat. Burris' appointment then would be moot, these officials said.
The second scenario: Burris shows up with a certificate signed by Blagojevich and either no signature by White or one done by auto pen or other questionable means. In that case, Gainer and the Capitol Police would steer Burris to Erickson, who would not be able to confirm that White signed the document. Burris then would be turned away from the chamber, these officials said.
The chances of confrontation drop dramatically if Blagojevich stays in Illinois, as Senate officials expect. As a sitting governor, he is entitled to floor privileges and for a time this week some Senate officials said they were concerned that he intended to accompany Burris into the chamber.
A spokesman for Blagojevich said there's no plan for the governor to attend the proceedings.
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