WASHINGTON--"I'm happy," said a beaming Roland Burris at a Wednesday press conference, confident after a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the assistant majority leader, that the pieces are falling into place for him to get sworn into the Senate, working out objections Senate Democrats had to seating him because he was appointed by the tainted Gov. Blagojevich.
Burris said he went into the 45-minute meeting bolstered by a phone call from former President Jimmy Carter, who he called a "friend."
There are several hurdles Burris must clear:
*Getting Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to sign his appointment certificate. Burris is asking the Illinois Supreme Court to direct White to sign.
*Testifying Thursday before the Illinois House impeachment panel. Burris must satisfy the Senate Democrats there was no illicit deal involved in the appointment. Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 for, among other crimes, trying to sell the seat vacated by President elect Barack Obama.
*After those two items, a referral to the Senate Rules Committee, to determine the properness of the appointment
*Having a vote of the entire Senate. Reid is encouraging Burris to reach out to Senate Republicans.
Burris said "when we get these two matters -- as you heard in his press conference -- out of the way, the signature of my good friend, and I say my good friend -- Secretary Jesse White -- because we are friends, and of course my testimony before the impeachment committee tomorrow in Springfield, then we will proceed then to submit our documentation to the Senate.
And as you heard chairman -- President (sic) Reid say, this will go to the Rules Committee, and they will then assess it and let me know what the outcome is.
So I'm very pleased this afternoon. I'm happy. My whole interest in this experience has been to "be prepared, Roland," to represent my great state. And that is my love, that is my desire. And very shortly, I will have the opportunity to do that as the junior senator from the fifth-largest state in this great country of ours. Isn't it great?"
The Senate Democrats had insisted they would not seat anyone sent to them by the scandalized Blagojevich and are backing down because they don't have much of a legal leg to stand on and racial politics intruded to the point where it was better to try to seat Burris than leave him hanging. Burris is an African American poised to fill the seat held by the only African American in the Senate. Reid was also drawn into a racially inflammatory controversy when the Chicago Sun-Times reported that he called Blagojevich to discuss appointments--and said three prospects, Rep. Danny Davis, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., state Senate President Emil Jones, all African American would have trouble getting elected statewide. He touted Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Illinois Veterans Affairs Chief Tammy Duckworth, an Asian-American.
Before Blagojevich was arrested, he floated his name for the appointment. His name was never taken by anyone seriously. Obama's preferred list never included Burris and the governor never brought him up.
At the press conference, I asked Burris about his contacts with Blagojevich and how he was putting himself in play.
"Oh, I was putting myself in play, Lynn, by friends from Illinois and across the nation saying, "Roland, what would you" -- well, you know, "You want to be senator, or you ought to be senator," you know, "What can we do?" My statement was, "Call the governor's office, send an e-mail to the governor's office, send in letters." And they were doing that from all over the country.
"And so I thought, you know, that that would raise some level of interest on behalf of my of my interest in the Senate seat.
And evidently it didn't, because -- because they didn't even mention my name. I mean, I -- I didn't even show up anywhere."
Asked if any conversations from associates might turn up on Blagojevich wiretaps, Burris said, "I have no knowledge of that, Lynn. And if they did, it's -- there was certainly no pay-to-play involved because I don't have no money."
Asked if he would for the seat in 2010, Burris left the door open.
"Well, now, let me get my Senate legs under me and get in and raise some money to pay for all this stuff we've been doing, and figure out that once we get in and get settled and learn where the -- where the bathrooms are."