He’s now got a top Senate Democrat on his side, a growing chorus of Congressional Black Caucus members backing him and an apparent edge in pending lawsuits.
Burris’ Senate appointment by Gov. Rod Blagojevich has caused an uproar because Blagojevich has been charged with trying to sell that Senate seat, vacated by Barack Obama.
The key question now for Reid and Durbin: How do they find cover in a political story that has run amok? One idea being considered is to have Burris win an endorsement from the sitting lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn, one Democratic insider said.
A Democratic aide familiar with the process said that the idea of urging Quinn to endorse Burris is being seriously considered, and that strategy may emerge depending on the outcome of the meeting. Democrats are also considering urging Burris to not run in 2010 as one condition for their support, aides said.
In an interview with Politico on Tuesday, Reid said he would support a Quinn appointment, even if it was Burris.
“What should happen, Blagojevich — if he really cared about his state and cared about Mr. Burris — should just step down and let Quinn do what Quinn would do,” said Reid, who has spoken to Quinn in recent days. “Whoever Quinn appointed, unless there were something I don’t understand, I just think anybody that he suggested ... they’d all be fine.”
Another out for Democrats: If Burris wins his state lawsuit and the Illinois secretary of state is forced to certify his appointment, Senate leaders could say their hand has been forced and they have to follow the order of the court.
Reid, who publicly hasn’t budged much on the matter in recent days, declined to discuss his negotiating strategy heading into the Burris meeting. Senate aides say that even if Burris appeared with proper certification, it wouldn’t necessarily seal the deal.
After appearing briefly Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Burris’ lawyers spent the afternoon meeting with advisers and lawyers and are preparing another lawsuit, which will be filed in federal court in Washington if Burris is not seated.
“He’s going to keep being aggressive,” the aide said.
In a statement Tuesday evening, Burris’ lawyer Tim Wright said: “There is no legal foundation that allows Senate staff or U.S. senators themselves to transcend the constitutional rights of an entire state. We are requesting that Senate leaders resolve this matter to avoid legal action and award Senate appointee Burris with the full privileges of a U.S. senator.”
With Burris on the offensive, Democratic leaders on Tuesday dealt with an increasingly divided party on this issue and struggled to come up with a path forward. With each passing day, there are more concerns about whether the Senate has the political will — and the legal capacity — to block Burris’ appointment.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) bucked party leaders, calling for Burris to be seated in the Senate as soon as his paperwork is signed by the Illinois secretary of state. Not allowing Burris to be seated could undermine future gubernatorial appointments, Feinstein said.
“I can’t imagine the secretary of state countermanding a gubernatorial appointment,” Feinstein said. “The question, really, is one, in my view, of law. And that is, does the governor have the power to make the appointment? And the answer is yes. Is the governor discredited? And the answer is yes.
“Does that affect his appointment power? And the answer is no until certain things happen.”
Reid warned that senators such as Feinstein are backtracking because, in December, 50 Democrats vowed to block any Blagojevich appointment. “They have to be very careful raising any objections, because they signed a letter,” Reid told Politico.
Republicans — even as they enjoyed watching Democrats squirm — were eager to move forward.
“It seems to me to be utterly plain that he should be seated,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). “The Constitution sets the standard. Congress cannot set a new standard. You cannot refuse to seat people.”
“If this goes to the Supreme Court, it would come back like a rubber ball to a wall,” Sessions said.
Some senators plan to watch Burris’ testimony Thursday before a state panel investigating Blagojevich. If Burris performs well and comes out unscathed, it could be harder to keep him away from the Senate, aides said.
But heading into the meeting with Reid and Durbin on Wednesday, Burris appeared to be gaining more support from senators and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, a member of the House Democratic leadership and the highest ranking African-American in Congress, told Politico that the Constitution is on Burris’ side.
“I thought we ought to follow the Constitution, and I think, whatever we do, we don’t get away from the Constitution, irrespective of our feelings politically,” Clyburn said.