Ill. Senate appointee plans to attend swearing-in
|U. S Rep. Bobby Rush speaks after Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich announces his choice of former Ill. Attorney General Roland Burris, right, to fill President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008 in Chicago.|
CHICAGO (AP) -- Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's choice to take Barack Obama's Senate seat plans to be in Washington next week when new senators are sworn in, but he won't make a scene if he's turned away by Senate leaders who object to his appointment.
"That is not my style. I am not seeking to be confrontational," former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday.
Blagojevich's decision to tap Burris for the seat thrust the 71-year-old political veteran back in the spotlight and immediately into a corner.
The Illinois secretary of state refused to certify Burris's appointment, the lieutenant governor called the selection an insult and Senate Democrats said they would not seat him. Even the president-elect was cold to the appointment.
"We believe in clean government, and Rod Blagojevich has unclean hands," said Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who called Blagojevich's actions an "insult to the people of Illinois."
On Tuesday, Blagojevich repeatedly sought to distance his surprise selection from his own woes. "Please don't allow the allegations against me to taint a good and honest man," the governor said, turning to the smiling Burris standing by his side.
"This is about Roland Burris as a U.S. senator, not about the governor who made the appointment," Blagojevich said.
For his part, Burris said he was "humbled to have the opportunity" and promised citizens he would "uphold the integrity of the office and ask for their continued confidence in me."
Burris said earlier in December that the charges against Blagojevich describe "appalling" and "reprehensible" behavior. He told The Associated Press that he "absolutely" stands by those statements, but that the governor remains innocent until proven guilty.
Burris would not say whether he thinks Blagojevich should resign.
The appointment injected race into the drama surrounding the Democratic governor. Burris, the first African-American elected to major statewide office in Illinois, would replace Obama, who had been the Senate's only black member.
Rep. Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat who was invited to speak at Blagojevich's news conference, urged Senate leaders not to block Burris. He told reporters that Senate Democrats should not "hang and lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer."
Burris didn't back away from Rush's assertion Wednesday in an interview on NBC's "Today."
"It is a fact, there are no African-Americans in the United States Senate," he said. "Is it racism that is taking place? That's a question that someone may raise."
Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 after federal prosecutors allegedly recorded conversations in which he discussed appointing someone Obama favored in exchange for a position in the new president's Cabinet or naming someone favored by a union if he got a high-level union job.
On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald filed a motion seeking a 90-day extension to return an indictment against Blagojevich. It says "multiple witnesses" have come forward in recent weeks and investigators have to review "thousands of intercepted phone calls."
Federal prosecutors normally have 30 days to file an indictment against a defendant. That deadline would have been Jan. 7, and the extension would give prosecutors until April 7 instead.
A U.S. attorney spokesman says a federal judge is scheduled to review the motion at a Monday hearing.
The governor has faced a flood of calls for his resignation, and the Illinois House has begun impeachment proceedings. He maintains his innocence, and has vowed to stay in office.
Illinois law gives the governor sole power to fill a Senate vacancy. Lawmakers considered stripping Blagojevich of that power after his arrest, but could not agree on legislation.
In a statement Tuesday, Senate Democrats maintained that Blagojevich should not make the appointment because doing so would be unfair to Burris and to the people of Illinois.
"Under these circumstances, 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," the statement said.
Obama struck the same tone.
"Roland Burris is a good man and a fine public servant, but the Senate Democrats made it clear weeks ago that they cannot accept an appointment made by a governor who is accused of selling this very Senate seat. I agree with their decision," the president-elect said in a statement.