CHICAGO (AP) _ Through media and the courts, Roland Burris is fighting hard to be sworn in as a U.S. senator, despite warnings that Senate leaders plan to snub him because he was chosen by disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
As early as this coming week, Blagojevich could become the first governor impeached in the long, sordid history of Illinois politics. The Illinois House announced Friday that it would convene Wednesday and stand ready to vote on any recommendation from a special committee studying impeachment.
“His political life is just about over. He’s on life support,” said one member of the impeachment committee, Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock.
Burris argues that the governor’s problems shouldn’t taint his appointment. He wants to be sworn in Tuesday even though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, backed by his fellow Democrats, says anyone picked by Blagojevich will be turned away.
Burris warned Friday that he is the state’s rightful junior senator and that he might sue if the Senate refuses to seat him.
“That certainly is one of the options,” he said in an interview with WMAY-AM radio in Springfield.
A handful of Burris supporters held a news conference and threatened to work against any Illinois politicians who oppose Burris.
“This is a demand that is peaceful, this is a demand that is sensible, this is a demand that is righteous, but please do not underestimate the will of the people standing before you today,” said William Walls of the Committee for a Better Chicago.
A spokesman said Burris spent much of Friday planning his legal and public relations strategies _ pieces of which became public when ABC announced Burris would appear on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on Sunday and Rep. Danny Davis said he would be attending a weekend rally for Burris at Burris’ church.
Spokesman Chris Russo said Burris had not begun speaking to senators, the people who ultimately will vote on whether he is seated, except for Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat.
But Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker said the senator hadn’t spoken to Burris. He said Durbin tried to call twice and hadn’t heard back. Nor has Durbin heard from any senators calling for Burris to be accepted, he said.
Davis, D-Ill., also said he didn’t know of any senators pushing for Burris.
Davis says a Blagojevich aide offered him the Senate appointment first, but he turned it down and suggested Burris, who was once the Illinois attorney general, and had not talked to the governor about the Senate spot before the governor’s arrest Dec. 9.
“His distance from the problems the governor is having is a plus,” said Davis. “He can say, ‘Whatever beef you have with the governor, I’m not the governor.”
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said some House members support Burris but she hadn’t heard of any Senate support.
“Remember, there is no black caucus in the Senate,” she said, serving a reminder that with the election of the nation’s first black president the Senate lost its only black member.
The charges against Blagojevich, a Democrat in his second term, include an accusation that he schemed to benefit from his power to name President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate replacement. Prosecutors say they recorded him discussing trading the appointment for a job in the Obama Cabinet or for a high-ranking position with a union.
Blagojevich denies any wrongdoing and has rejected calls for him to resign.
His critics, including Obama, say any appointment Blagojevich tries to make would be tainted, so the Senate should reject Burris.
The dispute involves delicate racial questions. Obama was the Senate’s only black member, and some black politicians _ notably Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill. _ say the seat should be filled quickly by another African-American. Burris is black.
But Obama opposes any Blagojevich appointment, and so does Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who is also black.
White has refused to certify the governor’s appointment of Burris, a bit of paperwork that is usually routine. In this case, it matters because the Senate says it won’t allow Burris onto the floor Tuesday if White doesn’t sign off on the appointment.
Burris has asked the Illinois Supreme Court to force White to certify the appointment. On Friday, his attorneys filed another motion asking the court to hurry up and decide before new senators are sworn in.
Spokesman Joseph Tybor said he had no idea when the court might respond.
Even if White does sign and Burris is allowed to enter the Senate chamber, Democratic leaders say they will keep Burris in limbo. They’re talking about holding a long investigation of his credentials, keeping Burris from becoming a senator until after Blagojevich’s fate is decided.
The Illinois House impeachment committee is scheduled to resume its work Tuesday. The full House will meet Wednesday and stay the rest of the week, and the weekend if necessary, to act on any impeachment recommendation.
The committee will invite Burris to testify, said Steve Brown, a spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. The time and date for Burris’ testimony is not certain, Brown said in a statement.
A spokesman for Burris didn’t immediately return a telephone message from The Associated Press.
It would take a simple majority vote for the House to impeach, which basically means accusing Blagojevich of misconduct. Then the state Senate would hold a trial to determine whether he’s guilty. A conviction there requires a two-thirds majority.
Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, head of the impeachment committee, would not predict when the panel will finish its work. “I think we’ve been on a timetable that said let’s be deliberate but let’s also understand there’s a sense of urgency,” said the Chicago Democrat.
It’s not clear how long a Senate trial might last, partly because state senators haven’t settled on the rules for any proceedings. Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn has said he thinks Blagojevich could be removed from office by Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, Feb. 12.
President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in the Monica Lewinsky scandal lasted a little over a month.
Pictured above is Roland Burris.