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Although he calls himself a senator, Roland Burris has found little support among fellow Democrats in his effort to take the Senate seat to which embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed him.
The Senate was scheduled to convene at noon Tuesday with its newest members. Yet the controversy over the appointment of Burris by a governor accused of trying to sell the old seat of President-elect Barack Obama and the ongoing dispute over election results in Minnesota practically guaranteed that both seats would remain empty by day’s end.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday that Burris would not be permitted to take his seat because Burris "has not been certified by the state of Illinois," a reference to incomplete paperwork that only touches on the dispute. Senate Democrats maintain that Burris’ appointment is tainted because of the charges against Blagojevich.
While Blagojevich has signed formal appointment papers, Jesse White, the Illinois secretary of state, has not, and Senate rules require that signature. Burris, in turn, has gone to court hoping to win an order for White to sign the necessary paperwork, and he has also threatened to sue to take his seat in the Senate.
Burris, 71, declared, "I’m a United States senator" before leaving Chicago for Washington. However, he is not and cannot be a senator unless he is administered the oath of office.
In spite of his stance, Burris told reporters that he would not make a scene at the Capitol. He was to meet privately on Wednesday with Reid.
Some of Burris’ supporters have bemoaned the fact that Democrats would stand in the way of the Senate gaining its only black member. Burris himself downplayed the issue of race, telling reporters: "I cannot control my supporters. I have never in my life, in all my years of being elected to office, thought anything about race."