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Fate of Burris Still in Limbo

Following a 45-minute meeting with Roland Burris, Senate Democratic leaders said Wednesday that several steps remain before they’ll decide whether to seat the former Illinois attorney general to replace President-elect Barack Obama in the upper chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters in the Capitol that Senate rules dictate that Burris must have the signature of both Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (which he has) and that of Secretary of State Jess White (which he doesn’t) as the first step in the process. That rule, added Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), dates back to 1884, and has “never been waived in the history of the United States Senate.” It’s a rule “not easily challenged or changed,” Durbin said.

The Illinois Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments today or tomorrow on the question of whether White, who has refused to certify Burris’ appointment, has the legal authority to do so. The court’s decision is expected to follow shortly thereafter.

“We’re hoping that they act on it in an expedited fashion,” Durbin said.

Not that White’s signature would guarantee that Burris would gain his seat. Reid said that that signature is “vital,” but other steps would follow.

“Then we’ll reassess where we are,” Reid said.

Burris, for example, is slated to testify under oath before Illinois state legislators tomorrow afternoon on his appointment — a hearing that Washington Democrats will be sure to scrutinize closely.

Reid said that Senate leaders might tap the Rules Committee to investigate the appointment, adding that the full Senate will also need to vote to approve Burris’ seating.

Both Reid and Durbin also downplayed the claims from some lawmakers — notably from Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush (D) — that the decision not to seat Burris yesterday was racist.

“A lot of people have tried to make this a racial issue,” Reid said, “but Roland Burris did not, and will not.”

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