Sen. Roland Burris is rapidly losing any political support he once had among colleagues, with Democrats from the statehouse to the White House raising questions about his entanglements with ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
On Wednesday afternoon, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told the Chicago Tribune, in a phone interview from Turkey, that “at this point, his future in the Senate seat is in question.”
Burris is now hunkering down in damage control mode, saying in a feisty Chicago speech today he has “nothing to hide” and that he has no intention of resigning, despite calls from several Illinois legislators and at least two Democratic members of the Illinois congressional delegation for him to quit. Burris has canceled his public schedule for the rest of the week.
In the past few days, Burris has revealed much more extensive contacts with Blagojevich associates than he previously admitted, and he also revealed he had been asked to raise money for the impeached governor.
The pressure on Burris is literally increasing by the hour, with the latest damaging comments straight from Air Force One, where Robert Gibbs, President Obama’s spokesman said “the people of Illinois deserve to know based on some of the things that have happened over the past few days, deserve to know the full extent of any involvement” by Burris in raising money for Blagojevich, according to a White House pool report.
Asked if Burris should resign, Gibbs said: “I'm not going to get ahead of investigations and say anything like that yet.”
But Gibbs did point out that the Senate agreed to seat Burris “based in some way on the representations that he made” to the U.S. Senate and the Illinois legislature.
Burris has received virtually no words of support from U.S. Senate leadership. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has backed a Senate Ethics Committee inquiry, and Durbin (D-Ill.), Burris’ home state colleague, also told the Chicago Tribune Wednesday that he’s “troubled by the fact that his testimony was not complete and it was unsatisfactory. It wasn’t the full disclosure under oath that we were asking for.”
Even some of Burris' most vocal supporters have been mum. Rep. Bobby Rush, who famously accused Democrats of being racist for refusing to seat Burris right away, has merely said he's monitoring the situation and is still friends with the senator.
Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.), meanwhile, joined a chorus of Illinois politicians saying Burris has to go.
“It is in the best interest of all Illinoisans that Sen. Burris resigns,” Hare said. “Our state and its citizens deserve the whole truth, not bits and pieces only when it is convenient.”
Also Wednesday afternoon, the Springfield, Ill., Journal Register, reported that Burris has failed to disclose all his lobbying work for horse racing clients to state lawmakers. On its Web site, the Journal Register writes that “In eight cases, clients that Burris or his firm represented, according to government databases, don’t appear on the list received by lawmakers.”
Burris’ problems began Saturday when it was revealed that he had submitted a Feb. 5 affidavit disclosing six contacts he had made with Blagojevich’s associates, including with the former governor’s brother, Rob. The governor’s brother, according to the affidavit, solicited funds from Burris when he expressed interest in the Senate seat. In Jan. 8 testimony before a state committee investigating the governor, Burris told legislators he had spoken with only one contact — and failed to mention his three conversations with Blagojevich’s brother. In a voluntary affidavit submitted Jan. 5, Burris failed to disclose any contacts he made with the governor’s other associates.
One Illinois state legislator who sat on the Blagojevich impeachment committee believes Burris misled the panel when he failed to disclose numerous contacts with Blagojevich associates regarding the open Senate seat.
“From the very moment he was appointed by Blagojevich, there has been a cloud surrounding Roland Burris and the U.S. Senate seat and he should end the charade now by resigning,” said Rep. Jack Franks, a Democratic state legislator. "I sat on the Committee that investigated both the impeachment and the Senate appointment process and I heard Burris' testimony very clearly. He was not being honest with us then and there is no indication that he is being honest with us now.”
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a potential Democratic candidate for that Burris Senate seat, is calling on Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to quickly set up a special election to replace Burris.
“At the time, I made it very clear that Senator Burris should not have accepted the appointment from former Governor Rod Blagojevich,” Schakowsky said Wednesday. “The Illinois State Legislature and Governor Quinn could put this all to rest by calling for a special election to allow the people of Illinois to decide who will serve out the 22 remaining months in President Obama's unexpired Senate term. Under the 17th Amendment, the Governor has a right to end the temporary term at any time and call for a special election. Whether or not Senator Burris resigns, the best way to put credibility back into the process is through a special election.”
As part of his PR offensive, Burris is planning to release detailed information about his conversations with Blagojevich, his discussions about raising money for the impeached governor and inconsistencies in recent testimony about the scandal-tainted Senate seat. Burris is planning to release timelines to the media, Illinois investigators and the Senate Ethics Committee, which has launched a preliminary inquiry into whether Burris committed perjury.
On Wednesday afternoon, Burris spoke to the City Club of Chicago, saying he’d “done nothing wrong, and I have nothing to hide."
"If I've done the things I've been accused of, I would be too embarrassed to stand up here because you are all my friends," Burris said.