Reid: Burris won't be seated -- yet

The Senate majority leader says they're waiting on a decision from an Illinois court, but seems ready to accept Roland Burris as a senator soon.

By Alex Koppelman

Published January 7, 2009 6:00PM (EST)

It appears Roland Burris will have to wait a little while longer before he's sworn in as a senator. On the other hand, it does now appear that he will be sworn in, despite Senate Democrats' earlier vow that they would not allow him to be seated.

Majority Leader Harry Reid and his deputy, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, met with Burris Wednesday morning. In a press availability that followed, Reid repeatedly complimented Burris personally, and addressed the racial issues that have bubbled up throughout the controversy, saying, "One of the first things he said to us, hey, this is nothing that's racial, I understand that. So a lot of people tried to make this a racial issue, but Roland Burris has not and will not."

At the moment, Reid said, he's waiting on two things before proceeding. First, Burris' testimony on Thursday afternoon before the committee of the Illinois state Assembly currently looking into impeaching Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and second, a state Supreme Court decision about whether the Illinois secretary of state has to sign Burris' appointment papers. (The lack of that signature is the rationale that the majority leader has used for keeping Burris out thus far.)

"We believe that what he's going to do tomorrow afternoon is very important. We believe that court decision is very important before we can move to the next step," Reid said. "There are a number of efforts that we are going to undertake, one of which would be to send to the Rules Committee. But there's going to come a time when the entire Senate is going to have to act on this. And that day, I hope, would come sooner rather than later."

The Huffington Post is attributing the reversal to the Obama team; it reports that aides to the president-elect contacted top Senate Democrats and suggested seating Burris.

Update: Burris has now held a press conference of his own. He had a lot of good things to say about Reid and Durbin, and made clear he believes he'll be an official senator soon.

"[W]hen we get these two matters... out of the way, the signature of my good friend -- and I say my good friend, Secretary Jesse White, because we are friends -- and, of course, my testimony before the impeachment committee tomorrow in Springfield, then we will proceed then to submit our documentation to the Senate," Burris said. "My whole interest in this experience has been to be prepared to represent my great state... And very shortly, I will have the opportunity to do that as a junior senator from the fifth largest state in this great country of ours. Isn't it great?"

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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