WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic leaders plan to grant few if any privileges next week to Roland Burris, the man picked by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to represent the state in the Senate, even if Burris arrives on Capitol Hill with the proper credentials.
Senate officials involved in the tangle of legal and logistical planning said Friday that a Democrat will object to Burris being duly sworn with the rest of his class and will propose that his credentials be reviewed for a period of time by the Rules Committee. That would give Burris the status of a senator-elect to the seat vacated by President-elect Obama.
Senate Democrats are slow-walking Burris' appointment because they hope Blagojevich will be removed from office before the Rules Committee completes its investigation.
Federal authorities accuse Blagojevich of offering to sell the appointment to the highest bidder. As early as next week he could become Illinois' first chief executive to be impeached. A state Senate trial would follow and if he were convicted, Blagojevich would be removed from office.
For his part, Burris planned to argue his case in the news media and threatened to sue Senate Democrats if they refuse to swear him in as the chamber's only black member.
Race is a prominent force in the dispute. Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., said he called Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and "made it abundantly clear that we felt that they should reconsider."
No luck, Payne reported on Friday.
"I have heard no one say that they felt that he is not qualified," Payne said. Race would not be a factor, he added, were there black members of the Senate. "There is a legitimate opportunity to have the Senate at least start to look a teeny bit like America."
Democrats have said that their opposition to Burris is not about Burris but the fact that anyone appointed by Blagojevich would be tainted by the corruption charges against the governor. The only way Burris will be allowed on the floor, according to Democratic officials who asked not to be identified, is if he possesses a certification of appointment signed by Blagojevich and Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.
Burris would then be treated as a senator-elect, which by tradition means he'll be allowed on the Senate floor without voting or speaking privileges, and he wouldn't be granted a desk, the officials told the Associated Press.