UNITED STATES

Senate Democrats to climb down over Illinois senator

Top Democrats look likely to climb down over their refusal to allow attorney Roland Burris to fill Barack Obama's former Senate seat. They had previously refused to accept the appointment by scandal-tainted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich

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Top Democrats on Wednesday set the stage for a climb down over their refusal to allow attorney Roland Burris to fill Barack Obama's former Senate seat, in the latest twist of a bizarre political drama.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, who had previously refused to accept the appointment by scandal-tainted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, appeared to soften his position after talks with Burris in his office.

"There is going to come a time when the entire Senate is going to have to act on this," Reid told reporters.

"That day, I hope, would come sooner rather than later."

Reid said Illinois's second ranking official, the secretary of state, must first sign Burris's appointment certificate which already contains the seal of the governor of the state.

The 71-year-old was turned away from the Senate on Tuesday on the grounds that he did not have a valid certificate of appointment.

The Illinois Supreme Court is set to shortly rule on motions from Burris designed to force secretary of state Jesse White to sign the papers.

Then senators will await the outcome of under-oath testimony by Burris on Thursday before the Illinois state legislature which is conducting impeachment proceedings against Blagojevich, Reid said.

Reid suggested that one option then would be to hold a full vote of the Senate on whether to seat Burris.

"This was a positive meeting and it moves us forward," said Illinois senator and Democratic leadership power player Dick Durbin who was also in the meeting with Burris in Reid's Senate office.

Burris later said that he would resubmit his documentation to the Senate when it is signed by the secretary of state.

"I'm very pleased this afternoon, I'm happy, my whole interest in this experience has been to be prepared ... to represent my great state.

"Very shortly, I will have the opportunity to do that as a junior senator from the fifth largest state in this great country of ours. Isn't it great?"

The saga over Burris's appointment contributed to a chaotic start to the new Congress's session on Tuesday, and detracted attention from Democratic attempts to get off to a fast start.

Blagojevich was arrested in December and accused of trying to sell off Obama's seat in return for political favors.

The governor defied Democratic leaders, including Obama, who have called for him to step down, by using his power to appoint a Senate successor to the president-elect.
 

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