Just days before a high-stakes showdown in the nation’s capital, the man selected to take US president-elect Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat sought spiritual and political support on Sunday at a South Side Chicago church.
Warm words of support and prayers for Roland Burris contrasted with the frigid reactions from Senate leaders, many of whom say his appointment by embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is so badly stained that Burris shouldn’t be seated when the new Congress convenes this week.
Burris took the stage at New Covenant Church on Sunday evening to a crescendo of drums, organ music and applause from hundreds of supporters, including black leaders and ministers.
“The appointment is legal,” he said, thanking those gathered at the prayer service. “That is all there is. I don’t know what all the confusion is about.”
Before the service, Burris supporter US Representative Bobby Rush and about 60 ministers condemned Senate Democratic leaders for rejecting Burris.
Rush, a Chicago Democrat, called the Senate “the last bastion of plantation politics.”
“We are just faced with a hard-headed room of people in the Senate who want to keep an African-American out of the Senate,” Rush said.
The Senate’s top two Democrats defended their right to deny the seat to Burris, while refusing to rule out a deal as Congress and its new members begin work this week.
Democrats say Burris’ appointment is tainted because it was made by Blagojevich, who is accused by federal authorities of offering to sell the vacancy to the highest bidder.
Burris, a former state attorney general, says the appointment is legal and the governor had the authority to do it. He has threatened to sue Senate Democrats if they refuse to swear him in as the chamber’s only black member.
“Anything can happen,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada.
But he described the chances of Burris joining the Senate as “very difficult.”
The second-ranking Democrat, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, acknowledged that his governor has the state constitutional authority to fill the vacancy.
“The Senate of the United States has the US constitutional responsibility to decide if Mr. Burris was chosen in a proper manner, and that is what we’re going to do,” Durbin said.
While the Burris furor dominated public discussion, Illinois lawmakers quietly continued work that could lead to Blagojevich being removed from office.
Members of the Illinois House impeachment committee reviewed a 54-page draft summary of the allegations against the Democratic governor. Lawmakers said the summary did not include any recommendations on whether Blagojevich should be impeached. That will come after the panel finishes its fact-finding — perhaps by the middle of this week.
The impeachment committee hoped to learn yesterday whether it would be given access to some of the federal government’s recordings of Blagojevich.
It also wants Burris to testify about his conversations with the governor that led to the Senate appointment.