Burris: By "Whatever Means Necessary"

By: CBS
By: CBS

(CBS) Despite the cold shoulders of prospective congressional colleagues who have refused to accept his appointment by a governor indicted on (and later impeached for) charges of corruption, the man chosen to fill Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat said his selection is legitimate, and demands that he be seated before Inauguration Day.

Roland Burris, the former Illinois Attorney General chosen by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill out Obama's term, said this morning that according to the Illinois State Supreme Court and by other constitutional authorities, the appointment was legal.

Appearing on CBS' Face The Nation this morning, Burris also said that the documents he has submitted are in compliance with Senate Rules, and furthermore he complied with the requests of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Illinois' senior Senator Dick Durbin to appear before the Illinois House of Representatives' impeachment committee to answer questions about Blagojevich.

Following a meeting between his attorneys and the Senate's lawyers, Burris said, "It is our position that we have done everything that's required, and that, yes, I should be seated forthwith, and I should be seated prior to the inauguration of our 44th president, a seat for which I now hold."

"I am the junior senator from the state of Illinois. There is no question of my legality of appointment," Burris told host Bob Schieffer. "Illinois has two senators. That is the law. We have two senators."

Even before his selection as Obama's replacement was announcement, Senate Democrats had said they would not seat anyone picked by Blagojevich, owing to the taint perceived to attach itself to anyone associated with the embattled governor.

Schieffer asked Burris, after federal prosecutors had indicted the governor for trying to sell Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder, "how can you accept such an appointment from such a person and expect people to take you seriously, or not question your character, as it were?"

"Very easily," Burris said, "and I hope that no one ever questions my character. And as you know, Bob, even though - by the way, the governor certainly has been impeached, and the legislature took their constitutional duties and responsibilities, but remember this: … A person who does bad can also do good. And what Governor Blagojevich did was good for the people of Illinois and good for the people of the country, when he exercised his constitutional duties to appoint a person to the vacancy of President-elect Obama. Appointing me to that vacancy certainly is good for the people of Illinois."

I do not want to be creating any type of scene. I do not want to have some long, drawn-out legal process that's going to hamper the important work of this body. We have bigger and better things to do.

Roland Burris"I have nothing to do with all of his problems; those are his problems," Burris said. "And with my experience, my knowledge of Illinois and my commitment to be a public servant in my state, I know that I can take on that mantle and do the work for the people."

"Well, don't you feel you're being used by someone who is just trying to save his political skin?" Schieffer asked.

"Whatever means necessary," Burris said, paraphrasing the 1960s radical Malcolm X. "I have nothing to do with the governor's motives. What we needed was something to be done for the people of Illinois. That was his constitutional duty. That was his responsibility. The Illinois Constitution does not say the governor 'may' or the governor 'might' or the governor 'should.' Bob, it says the governor 'shall' appoint a person to fill the vacancy. That's what happened."

When asked by Schieffer about his attorneys' promise to take the matter to federal court if need be, Burris said, "Well, certainly, my lawyers will drive that situation. I will more than likely make the final decision. But I do not want to be creating any type of scene. I do not want to have some long, drawn-out legal process that's going to hamper the important work of this body. We have bigger and better things to do.

"We, as public servants, must get about that business and put all of this other activity aside," Burris said. "Let us have that 58th vote in the Democratic side of the Senate, and when my colleague, [Al] Franken, comes from Minnesota, we'll have a 59th vote, so we can get some business done."

Burris said he expects to be in Washington soon. "I will be there, certainly, in a day or two, to pursue taking my seat, absolutely. I am the junior senator from the state of Illinois."

Earlier on the program, Illinois' senior Senator Dick Durbin said he thought the Senate would make a decision on Burris' fate before the Illinois Senate can decide the fate of Blagojevich. [It may be weeks before a Senate trial will decide whether the impeached Governor is to be removed from office.]

(CBS)Durbin also said that the Senate has the right to block Burris from being sworn in. "Under the Constitution and the rules of the Senate, we judge not only the qualifications of a person who comes to this Senate by appointment or election but also whether the election or appointment process was appropriate," he told Schieffer. "The Senate has that power to stand in judgment of its members."

Durbin said that after the allegations and wiretaps of his now-impeached governor, "certainly all of the Democratic senators said, we don't want anything to do with Rod Blagojevich's choices."

Nonetheless, Durbin seemed to soften on the Democrats' hard line about seating a Blagojevich appointee. "We want to be fair to Roland Burris. If he has the proper certification and papers, then we're going to take one look at the process and move forward from there. But I won't presume what the Senate is going to finally decide. I will just tell you we'll do it fairly and we'll do it on a timely basis.

"And I will tell you," Durbin said, "if you don't pay close attention, the plot changes. And late Friday, the Secretary of State of Illinois, who had withheld his signature from a key document that the Senate has required for 125 years, sent a new document to the Senate. It's now being evaluated by legal counsel."

Durbin could not answer a question about the prospective timing of such a decision. "When I talked to Senator Reid, we have a number of things scheduled this week. And, of course, the Senate calendar is not easy to invade."

Also on the program: House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who discussed the economic stimulus package being proposed by President-elect Obama and about the disbursement of the remaining $350 billion of TARP funds, which he said would be "irresponsible."

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