CHICAGO — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich "corrupt" on Sunday and accused him of trying to divert attention from his criminal case by alleging Reid opposed African-American candidates seeking Illinois' Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama.
Blagojevich's Senate appointee, former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris, said he would take Reid at his word about his conversation with the governor. But on the eve of traveling to Washington, where Senate Democratic leaders have vowed to refuse to seat him on Tuesday, Burris declared himself the state's newest senator.
"I am now the junior senator from the state of Illinois. Some people, they want to doubt that. That is their right," Burris said Sunday night at a prayer service on his behalf at New Covenant Baptist Church in Chicago. But Burris noted the several hundred supporters in the predominantly African-American audience and said, "You are the real determining factor."
Burris once again pledged to not create "any theater" at the nation's Capitol, and Reid sounded a similar conciliatory note by refusing to rule out the possibility that Burris would be seated against the wishes of Senate Democrats.
The prayer service was organized by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who has accused Senate Democrats of using racial motivations to refuse to seat Burris, Illinois' first statewide elected black official. On Sunday night, Rush called the Senate "one of the last bastions of plantation and racial politics in America."
Senate Democrats have said they would not seat Burris or anyone appointed by Blagojevich, who has been accused by federal prosecutors of using his office to try to enrich himself, including auctioning off Obama's Senate seat. Reid, appearing Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, criticized those who sought to portray the issue along racial lines.
"Blagojevich obviously is a corrupt individual," Reid said. "(For) anyone to suggest anything racial is part of the Blagojevich spin to take away from the corruption that's involved in his office in Illinois."
Reid would not say outright that Burris would not be seated and noted there was "always room to negotiate." Reid, Durbin and Burris are scheduled to meet on Wednesday.
Support for Franken
New York Sen. Charles Schumer says Democrat Al Franken should be seated when the Senate convenes Tuesday.
Schumer, the former head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement Sunday that it's clear Franken has won the election for Minnesota's Senate seat. He says Republican Norm Coleman can't get enough votes to win, even if claims of double-counted ballots are resolved.
Franken had a 225-vote lead over Coleman when election officials completed their re-count Saturday. The state Canvassing Board is expected to certify the results today, then there will be a seven-day waiting period before an election certificate is completed.
But the election may not be over. Coleman has a court petition pending that seeks to add ballots to the recount and hasn't ruled out a court challenge.