Senate snubs Obama replacement at swearing-in

The United States Senate has refused to allow Roland Burris to be sworn in at the start of a new Senate session. African-American Burris was chosen by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested in December for alleged corruption.


AFP - US officials on Tuesday refused to allow the man chosen by Illinois's scandal-tainted governor to replace president-elect Barack Obama to be sworn in at the start of a new Senate session.

"I presented my credentials to the secretary of the senate, and advised that my credentials were not in order," said Roland Burris, standing with his lawyers before a media scrum in freezing rain outside the Capitol building.

Burris was picked last week to fill Obama's vacant Senate seat by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested in December for alleged corruption, including seeking to sell the empty Senate seat to the highest bidder.

The frenzy surrounding Burris' appointment is an unwelcome distraction for Obama and Democrats in the new Congress, whose top priority is pushing for swift action on a massive economic stimulus package, worth three-quarters of a trillion dollars.

But Burris, 71, made clear he was not looking for a public fight with the Senate leadership, for now.

"I am not seeking to have any type of confrontation. I will now consult with my attorneys, and we will determine what our next step will be," Burris added.

The veteran Illinois statesman would replace Obama as the only African-American senator.

Obama, who resigned his seat after winning the November 4 presidential elections, has said he regrets Burris' appointment, and that the governor should instead resign.

Burris' lawyer Timothy Wright said he had several options including further negotiations with top senators or seeking a court ruling.

He said Burris had not been allowed to go onto the floor of the 100-seat Senate or to take the oath of office.

"All of which we think was improperly done. And it is against the law of this land. We will consider our options," Wright said.

Burris will remain in Washington until he can "deliberate with the Senate leadership and perhaps get them to reverse themselves," said Wright, adding that there could be a possible court challenge to the decision.

The appointment has not been signed by the Illinois Secretary of State, as required by Senate rules, and has been rejected by Senate Secretary Nancy Erickson, according to her spokeswoman.

But Burris' attorneys were apparently unconcerned about the legal uncertainty.

Citing a "200, 300-year-old case" as precedent, Wright told reporters: "From that we have determined that senator Roland Burris is the junior senator from the state of Illinois."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has opposed Burris's nomination due to the corruption scandal.

But Burris maintains the scandal surrounding Blagojevich "is all politics and theater."

His lawyer argued that negotiations with Reid will continue, even as impeachments proceedings in Illinois against Blagojevich get underway.

"We think there's never an end to discussions, there's always a point to see if we might, resolve this impasse and move forward on behalf of the people," Wright said.

CNN reported that a deal could be in the making between Democratic lawmakers and Burris that would have the Illinois statesman take his Senate seat as long as he vows not to run for in the 2010 legislative elections, when the seat comes up for grabs.

Burris has also been asked by the Illinois House of Representatives committee investigating whether to impeach Blagojevich to appear Wednesday in the state capital Springfield.

New senators elected in the November elections as well as the new House of Representatives were being sworn in Tuesday to take up their seats in the 111th Congress.

Democrats begin the new session with a comfortable majority in the 435-seat House, after gaining more than 20 seats in November's election.

In the Senate -- including a Democrat appointment in Illinois and a victory for comedian Al Franken in Minnesota's contested seat -- Democratic lawmakers are one seat short of the magic 60-seat barrier, which would enable them power to thwart Republican filibuster obstruction tactics.

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