WASHINGTON — The Senate's second-in-command, Sen. Dick Durbin, said Sunday that he is moving away from resisting former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris as President-elect Barack Obama's successor and hopes a resolution to the disagreement will be reached soon.
For his part, Burris said he and his lawyers will be in Washington on Monday to begin paving the way for him to join the Senate. But Durbin said lawyers still need to sign off on Burris' paperwork and review his testimony before the Illinois House, which later impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges.
"I started off obviously skeptical, as all of the Democratic members did," Durbin, D-Ill., said on "Face the Nation" on CBS. "But as time has gone on and we've looked closely, we want to be fair to Roland Burris. If he has the proper certification and papers, then we're going to take one look at the process and move forward from there."
Senate Democrats have opposed Burris' appointment because of federal charges that Blagojevich tried to sell the seat to the highest bidder. Although they have argued that any Blagojevich appointee is tainted because of the scandal, no one has accused Burris of wrongdoing.
Burris, also appearing on CBS, said his appointment by Blagojevich is legal. On Friday, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that under state law, Burris' appointment paperwork is valid and that it's up to the Senate to decide whether to seat him. But Durbin, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats have said that unless the appointment is signed by both the governor and the Illinois secretary of state, it violates Senate rules.
Durbin said Senate lawyers are reviewing a document received Friday night to see whether it complies. Democrats also want to review Burris' testimony before the impeachment panel, where the appointee said he promised Blagojevich nothing in exchange for the seat. Then, Reid said, the Senate would vote on whether to seat him.
The National Coalition for Fairness and Justice in the U.S. Senate, a Chicago group led by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., said Sunday that it had sent letters to Durbin and Reid requesting Burris be seated immediately. The group accused Durbin of "playing political pingpong" and said it was planning a "massive mobilization effort" this week if Burris was not seated.
At one time, Senate Democrats were hoping that Blagojevich would be removed from office before the Senate resolved the Burris matter. In the last few days it's become clear that an Illinois Senate trial on whether to remove Blagojevich from office could take weeks. Democrats, from Obama on down, want the matter resolved before it overshadows more of the 111th Congress and the beginning of the new president's term.
"I want to do this in a fair and quick way so that Roland knows his fate," Durbin said.
Burris said he and his legal team aren't easing up the pressure.
"It is our position that those documents are now in compliance with the Senate rules," Burris said. "And therefore, after the lawyers have reviewed this, my attorneys will be Washington on Monday to confirm with the parliamentarian and the attorneys to confirm that all of this is in order."