Sunday was definitely not a day of rest in the "Senate Seat Showdown."
The Senate's top two Democrats defended their right to deny a seat to Roland Burris, Barack Obama's successor-in-waiting, while refusing to rule out a deal as Congress and its new members begin work this week.
Democrats say Burris' appointment is tainted because it was made by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is accused by federal authorities of offering to sell the vacancy to the highest bidder. Burris, a former state attorney general, says the appointment is legal and the governor had the authority to do it. He has threatened to sue Senate Democrats if they refuse to swear him in as the chamber's only black member.
"Anything can happen," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. But he described the chances of Burris joining the Senate as "very difficult."
The second-ranking Democrat, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, acknowledged that his governor has the state constitutional authority to fill the vacancy. "The Senate of the United States has the U.S. constitutional responsibility to decide if Mr. Burris was chosen in a proper manner and that is what we're going to do," Durbin said.
To Reid, "there's clearly legal authority for us to do whatever we want to. This goes back for generations." He declared his concern about "a cloud over anyone that comes from the state of Illinois being appointed by Blagojevich."
Burris planned to speak Sunday evening to ministers and supporters at a prayer vigil on Chicago's South Side. He intended to depart for Washington on Monday.
Reid said he expected to meet with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on Monday evening in hopes "we can solve this issue on a bipartisan basis." Reid added, "I'm on old trial lawyer. There's always room to negotiate."
Such deal making might also involve Minnesota's drawn-out Senate race, which has Democrat Al Franken ahead by 225 votes as a statewide recount drew to a close. The state Canvassing Board was to reconvene Monday to declare which candidate received the most overall votes in the election. Senate Republican leaders have said the chamber should not seat Franken until all legal matters are settled, even if that drags on for months.
McConnell said Illinois should hold a special election to determine Obama's replacement.
"I think the fear is that Republicans might somehow win the seat in Illinois if there's a special," he said. "But the process is so tainted, it is such a tangled mess, as you can see, that the only way to clear the air and to have a successor chosen in Illinois that everybody can have confidence in."
But Burris told a Chicago television station Sunday morning that the appointment is not "based on what the status of the governor is" and that he hopes "the details surrounding my legal appointment to that office will be worked out in advance" of his arrival on Capitol Hill.
Democratic leaders, however, plan to afford him few if any privileges even if he were to come to the Capitol with the proper credentials. Senate officials have said a Democrat will object to Burris being duly sworn with the rest of his class Tuesday and will propose that his credentials be reviewed for a period of time by the Senate Rules Committee. That would give Burris the status of a senator-elect and buy some time as Democrats hope Blagojevich will be removed from office before the committee completes its investigation.
Also Sunday, Reid denied a published report he told Blagojevich in early December that he opposed the appointments of Democratic Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Danny Davis to the Senate seat out of fear they would lose the seat to a Republican in the 2010 general election. Reid also allegedly opposed Emil Jones, the powerful black leader of the Illinois Senate, on the same grounds.
"I didn't tell him who not to appoint. He's making all this up to divert attention," Reid said. "Anyone who suggests anything racial is part of the Blagojevich spin to take (attention) away from the corruption." The Chicago Sun-Times reported Saturday that in an early December call to the governor, Reid urged Blagojevich to appoint either Illinois Veterans Affairs chief Tammy Duckworth or Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Reid appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," while Durbin and McConnell were on "This Week" on ABC.