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Burris Turned Away by Senate

The soap opera continues …

The secretary of the Senate this morning refused to seat Roland Burris, the former Illinois attorney general picked by embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) to replace President-elect Barack Obama in the upper chamber. Burris and Blagojevich have both insisted that the appointment is legal, despite the governor’s arrest last month for allegedly attempting to sell off Obama’s recently vacated Senate seat.

Democratic leaders, fearing the embarrassment of having a Blagojevich appointee wandering the Capitol hallways, have vowed to block his seating. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White helped them along yesterday when he refused to sign Burris’ election certification.

It’s not clear, however, that the Democrats have the legal authority to block Burris. Blagojevich, despite his arrest, hasn’t been convicted of any crime. And the Illinois state legislature declined to authorize a special election that would have precluded the need for a governor appointment.

As Stephen Hess, a political scholar with the Brookings Institution, said of Burris in a phone interview yesterday: “My sense is that he’s got a pretty good case.”

At a rainy press conference in Washington this morning, Burris said he is “not seeking to have any kind of confrontation.” Members of his camp said they will now weigh their options, including filing a lawsuit in federal court.

One thing is certain: In the wake of the historic elections that left the Democrats with broad majorities in both congressional chambers, this was hardly the new direction they envisioned in 2009.

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