Published January 06, 2009
A key Democrat broke with her Senate colleagues Tuesday to support Roland Burris in his controversial bid to assume Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee that soon could take up Burris' case, said Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has the right to appoint a senator despite the allegations of corruption against him.
"Does the governor have the power, under law, to make the appointment? And the answer is yes," Feinstein said, urging the Senate to settle the matter. "If you don't seat Mr. Burris, it has ramifications for gubernatorial appointments all over America. ... Mr. Burris is a senior, experienced politician."
The comments flew in the face of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's assertion that Burris should not be seated in part because the move would be tainted by the Blagojevich scandal. Feinstein's stance is the latest sign of intra-party tensions over the matter.
Democratic leaders, set to meet with Burris on Wednesday, are searching for a way to defuse the dispute before it further overshadows the 111th Congress. Knowledgeable Senate officials of both parties widely predicted that the saga would end with Burris being seated. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the were not authorized to speak publicly.
But in the meantime, charges were flying on all sides after Burris was barred from entering the Senate Tuesday.
The Senate's Democratic leaders said Burris was kept from entering the chamber because his certificate of appointment hadn't been signed by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.
But Burris says there's no question he is the junior senator from Illinois, even though Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell the very seat to which Burris was appointed. His attorneys threatened the possibility of a lawsuit Tuesday.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., one of Burris' top cheerleaders on Capitol Hill, even accused the Senate leadership of racism. Burris is black and if seated would be the only black member of the U.S. Senate, a distinction Obama once held.
"While they might not be termed racist, their action is racist," Rush told FOX News. "I think that if Roland Burris hadn't been an African American, then he would have been allowed to accept the appointment and become a senator."
Reid spokesman Rodell Mollineau called Rush's comments "outrageous and over the line."
"With all due respect to Congressman Rush, his comments are not based in reality," Mollineau said.
Many lawmakers have dismissed Rush's warnings about race.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., vice chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said it is important to "extract race from the process."
"With Barack Obama's election, there can be no such thing as a 'black' seat," Cleaver said.
But it's unclear how long the Senate can continue to block Burris.
Burris is moving forward with his effort to convince the Illinois Supreme Court to force White to sign the certificate of appointment. If that happens without a compromise being reached, Senate leaders might have to refer Burris' case to Feinstein's Rules Committee for review.
FOX News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.