GOP Unlikely to Block Burris

Obstacles Slowly Fall Aside

Posted January 7, 2009 at 6:59pm

If Illinois Democrat Roland Burris isn’t installed as President-elect Barack Obama’s successor, it won’t be because of opposition from the Senate Republican Conference.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday urged Burris to reach out to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the GOP Conference in advance of a possible Senate vote to accept his appointment — if and when Burris’ certification papers meet the requirement of Senate rules.

McConnell, maintaining his call for a special election to fill Obama’s seat, would not speculate on how he or his Conference would vote on the matter, although several Republicans confirmed that Burris’ installment was unlikely to be blocked.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), for one, said he is in favor based on what he knows “today.”

“I would be inclined, if he’s got the proper certificate, which is what Rule II of the Senate rules require, I’d be inclined to seat him,” Cornyn said.

The holdup with Burris stems from who appointed him: Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D). The governor last month was arrested by federal law enforcement officials for peddling his appointment to the highest bidder, leading Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to call for a special election to replace Obama as the only way to keep the stain of Blagojevich out of the Senate.

Reid and other leading Democrats soon backed away from Durbin’s special election demand — Durbin included — but said they would never allow a Blagojevich appointee to be installed.

Senate Republicans have continued to call for a special election, but they have been careful not to join the debacle, believing their chances of flipping Obama’s old seat in the 2010 elections will improve if Burris is seated.

“If the Democrats want to seat Gov. Blagojevich’s nominee, they’ll be able to do that if he has a valid election certificate,” a senior Senate GOP aide said.

After Burris’ meeting with Reid and Durbin in the Capitol on Wednesday, Senate Democrats seemed prepared to install the former state attorney general.

Reid and Durbin, now having backed off their position that they would never accept a Blagojevich appointee, indicated they would have no problem seating Burris after he satisfies the Senate rule for certification.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White (D) has refused to sign off on Blagojevich’s appointment, and until he does so or an alternative is a worked out by the courts, Burris will not meet the Senate’s certification requirements, which Reid noted has been on the books since 1884.

White was quoted in media reports as saying he has no intention of signing off on Burris’ appointment. Ultimately, Burris could be seated by unanimous consent if the issue of White’s refusal to sign the certification papers is not resolved in some manner.

In a press conference at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill after his meeting with Reid and Durbin, Burris was confident that he is on his way to being seated. Burris declined to rule out standing for election in 2010 should he assume office.

“My whole interest in this experience has been to be prepared … to represent my great state,” Burris said. “Very shortly, I will have the opportunity to do that as the junior Senator from the fifth-largest state in this great country of ours.”

According to steps laid out by Reid and Durbin, Burris must first resolve his certification issue, with both leaders stressing that the Rule II requirement has never been waived.

Once resolved, Reid indicated he would refer Burris to the Rules and Administration Committee to ensure the potential Senator is clear of any ethical taint. Finally, Burris would be referred to the floor for a full vote of the Senate.

In a statement released after meeting with Burris, Reid urged the Senate hopeful to reach out to McConnell and other Senate Republicans for their support in advance of a possible floor vote on his installment, a move that appeared designed to share responsibility for the Blagojevich appointment with the GOP.

Senate Democratic aides and Senate GOP aides disagreed over how much Republican support would be necessary for the Burris appointment to be accepted. One Democratic aide said it would take three-fifths of the Senate, meaning Republican votes in the affirmative would be necessary.

A Republican aide countered that all it would take is a majority vote, something the Democrats could clearly handle given that they hold 57 seats.

“If there is a solution, it must be reached by the entire Senate,” Reid said in his statement.

Among Senate Democrats, a consensus was building Wednesday to seat Burris, although some in the Conference remained concerned about the Blagojevich taint.

“I called Harry Reid a week ago. I called him at home in Nevada and told him that once the certificate comes in, that we have to seat him,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said.

Members of the Democratic leadership, including incoming Rules and Administration Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.), expressed support for the steps laid out by Reid.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) was in support of the process as well, although he declined to comment on where Burris fit into the Democrats’ 2010 election plans.

Emily Pierce and Jeremy White contributed to this report.