Wednesday, December 31, 2008
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Senate Democrats reject Blagojevich effort to fill Obama's seat          Send a link to a friend

[December 31, 2008]  WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rep. Bobby Rush says he doesn't think any U.S. senator would be caught turning a black man away from serving alongside them.

InsuranceHe thought wrong.

No Senate Democrats responded to his racial challenge. And they got support from President-elect Barack Obama, who will be the first African-American in the White House.

Rush, D-Ill., dared Senate Democrats Tuesday to block Roland Burris from becoming the Senate's only black member, urging them not to "hang and lynch" the former state attorney general for the alleged corruption by his patron, Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Obama was having none of it, siding with Senate Democrats who vowed to turn Burris away should he show up in Washington to be sworn in.

"They cannot accept an appointment made by a governor who is accused of selling this very Senate seat," Obama said in a statement. "I agree with their decision, and it is extremely disappointing that Governor Blagojevich has chosen to ignore it."

Obama voiced disapproval for the spectacle unfolding in his home state.

"I believe the best resolution would be for the governor to resign his office and allow a lawful and appropriate process of succession to take place," Obama said.

It was unclear what that process would be and who would choose Obama's successor.

On Tuesday, Blagojevich declared himself the decider, defying the leaders of his party and naming Burris, 71, the next senator from Illinois. At a news conference in Chicago, he urged the Senate not to allow the charges that he tried to sell the same Senate seat to taint a well-respected man.

Then Rush stepped up to the microphone to offer his challenge.

"Let me just remind you that there presently is no African-American in the U.S. Senate," he began.

"I will ask you to not hang and lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer," he added. "I don't think that anyone -- any U.S. senator who's sitting in the Senate right now -- wants to go on record to deny one African-American for being seated in the U.S. Senate."

In an interview Wednesday, Burris didn't back away from Rush's assertion. "It is a fact, there are no African-Americans in the United States Senate," he said on NBC's "Today." "Is it racism that is taking place? That's a question that someone may raise."

Democrats needed no reminder that blocking a black man from replacing another in the overwhelmingly white Senate might not go over well on the eve of Obama's ascension to the White House.

Their statement earlier in the day contained a carefully crafted note of support for Burris personally, saying their refusal to seat him was a reflection of Blagojevich and no one else.

Another House member said to be interested in Obama's Senate seat derided Rush's political ultimatum to seat Burris or else.

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"It is not about lynching Roland Burris at all," Rep. Jan Schakowsky said on CNN. "And actually, it's not about race at all."

Rush said Wednesday, "All these folks opposed to Blagojevich need to take a chill pill."

"The people of the state of Illinois should not be denied representation" when the new Senate convenes in January, Rush said on CBS' "Early Show."

Democrats said the dispute is about the Senate's constitutionally granted power to decide who is seated as a member, and whether anyone appointed by Blagojevich would have the credibility to serve.

"This is not about Mr. Burris; it is about the integrity of a governor accused of attempting to sell this United States Senate seat," Majority Leader Harry Reid and his deputy, Sen. Dick Durbin, said in a statement. "Anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic caucus."

Burris said Wednesday that Blagojevich "has the constitutional and statutory authority to make those appointments ... and I have absolutely nothing to do with those problems."

"I will not be tainted because the governor has followed the constitution," Burris told NBC. "And I am confident that when all is said and done, I will be a United States senator."

Senate aides of both parties said the question of whether Burris gets seated next month is moot.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said Tuesday that he would not sign Burris' certification, as required by Senate rules.


If Burris does appear in Washington, senators could refuse to swear him in, or vote to expel him.

"They most certainly are constitutionally in a position to reject him; there isn't anyone who has the authority to overrule them," said Mark Braden, former chief counsel to the Republican National Committee and now a partner at Baker Hostetler, a Washington law firm.

[Associated Press; By LAURIE KELLMAN]

Associated Press writers Libby Quaid and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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