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Reid, After Meeting With Burris, Keeps Illinois Senate Appointee's Hopes Alive

Roland Burris' claim to be the next senator from Illinois began to take on a ring of truth Wednesday, as Senate Democrats walked back their objections and threats over Gov. Rod Blagojevich's defiant appointment.

The former Illinois attorney general has not been seated yet, but Burris clearly sees a path to office, telling reporters that he expects to be sworn in "in the very near future."

"The law is on our side," Burris told reporters Wednesday after his plane landed in Chicago.

That was after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid kept alive the possibility of seating Burris by claiming that the dispute boils down to a mere technicality.

After meeting with Burris on Wednesday morning, Reid and Illinois' senior Sen. Dick Durbin said at a press conference that Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White's signature is needed in order to certify Burris' appointment. That justification is a turnaround from the past couple weeks when the Senate majority leader said he would not seat any appointment by Blagojevich because of the taint of the association to the embattled governor.

Burris told reporters Wednesday that once he gets White's signature, and once he testifies before an Illinois impeachment panel Thursday, the Senate can move his case forward by sending it to the rules committee.

Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat -- the same one to which he appointed Burris.

But Democratic officials told FOX News that even Obama has met with Reid and urged the Senate leadership to resolve the situation amicably. The dispute had created a distracting spectacle on the opening day of the 111th Congress on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the Congressional Black Caucus also formally backed the appointment of Burris.

CBC chairwoman Rep. Barbara Lee said the support was a unanimous decision and added that a statement would be out "shortly."

The CBC is expected to write a letter to Reid on behalf of Burris.

Reid and Durbin both described Wednesday's meeting with Burris as "positive."

"For me, who had never met the man, it was very enlightening," Reid said. "He's obviously a very engaging, extremely nice man."

Both Reid and Durbin dismissed any suggestions that Burris' appointment has been delayed because of his race.

Speaking about the meeting with Burris, Durbin told reporters, "At the outset he [Burris] said, I want to make it clear that this controversy has nothing to do with my race."

The dispute had taken on racial overtones after comments by some Burris supporters. The former Illinois attorney general would be the Senate's only black member following Obama's departure.

There continue to be disagreements over the role of the Illinois secretary of state, however.

"We've had a rule in effect since 1884 in the Senate that for a person to be appointed by the governor, you have to have a signature from the governor and the secretary of state," Reid told reporters.

But White said Wednesday that his signature is not required for the Senate to confirm Burris.

"They could have seated him without my signature. My signature is not required," White told WGN-720AM.

"My signature is mostly ceremonial, rather than a point of law," he said. State Attorney General Lisa Madigan later concurred.

The matter remains in court, as Burris has asked the state Supreme Court to order White to sign his documents.

White and Madigan filed a motion Wednesday with the Illinois Supreme Court stating that there is no law requiring a secretary of state's signature on appointments.

They said that the signature is "recommended" by a U.S. Senate rule.

Senate officials in both parties, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly for Senate members, have said expectations are growing in the Capitol that the saga will end with Burris being seated.

At an afternoon news conference following the Reid-Durbin meeting, Burris told reporters that he expects "very shortly" to represent the state of Illinois in the U.S. Senate.

He said he received a phone call from Jimmy Carter shortly before the meeting, in which the former president said, "When you're in the Senate, Roland, you will make a great senator."

Shortly before the Reid-Durbin news conference, Obama told reporters that Burris' case "is a Senate matter" -- an apparent reversal from his previous remarks in which he made clear that seating a corrupt governor's appointment is unacceptable.

The likelihood that Burris, a Democrat, will become the Senate's only black member increased Tuesday when he won the support of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, cracking what had been a united public front by Senate Democrats against seating anyone appointed by Blagojevich.

The Burris drama took a new twist Wednesday morning when the Associated Press reported that Senate Democrats were ready to accept him to fill the vacant seat.

But a spokesman for Reid denied the report, telling FOX News, "There are various options on the table."

"There will be no white smoke today," Rodell Mollineau said.

Blagojevich shocked Democratic leaders last week by appointing Burris to finish the final two years of Obama's term, just three weeks after the governor was arrested on corruption charges in what federal prosecutors said was a scheme to sell or trade the vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder.

Blagojevich, who denies the accusations, has yet to be indicted. Burris has not been accused of any involvement in the alleged scheme and Democrats have repeatedly said the issue is Blagojevich, not Burris' qualifications.

In a piece of political theater, Burris tried and failed Tuesday to take Obama's seat.

He marched into the Capitol, declaring himself "the junior senator from the state of Illinois," and asked Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson to accept a certification of his appointment signed by Blagojevich. Erickson refused, saying it lacked White's signature and the state seal.

White has refused to sign the appointment letter that Blagojevich gave to Burris, saying he won't sign on to any such decision by a governor under legal siege.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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