WASHINGTON—Former Illinois Atty. Gen. Roland Burris and Senate Democratic leaders determined to block his seating in the U.S. Senate plan to sit down Wednesday in the U.S. Capitol for a face-to-face meeting.
Aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Saturday that the meeting was arranged at the request of Burris, who spoke Friday with Durbin by telephone. A Durbin spokesman said only that the conversation was amicable.
Aides to Burris confirmed he requested the meeting and said he plans to try Tuesday to claim the Senate seat to which he was appointed.
After Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested last month on charges of trying to sell the appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, Democratic Senate leaders vowed not to seat Blagojevich's choice.
But Burris says he will press his case.
That has set up the possibility of a showdown when the new Congress convenes Tuesday. Senate leaders have contingency plans to block Burris' entrance to the floor with armed guards, if necessary.
Late Saturday, Reid issued a statement accusing Blagojevich of "leaking and distorting conversations," an apparent reference to a report Saturday that Reid and Blagojevich talked by phone six days before the governor was arrested Dec. 9.
The conversation, disclosed by the Sun-Times based on anonymous sources, added to the potential racial dimension in the struggle over seating Burris, who is black.
A Democratic official familiar with the conversation told the Tribune that Reid expressed "some concern" about whether three potential candidates—U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) and Illinois Senate President Emil Jones—could win a statewide election to keep the seat in 2010. All three are black.
The official said Reid expressed greater confidence in the prospects of Illinois Veterans Affairs chief Tammy Duckworth, who is Asian-American, and state Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, who is white.
The conversation may shed light on a reference in Blagojevich's criminal complaint in which the governor cites pressure not to appoint "Senate Candidate 5," now known to be Jackson.
Blagojevich spokesman Luis Guerrero confirmed the Dec. 3 call, but declined to say which candidates Reid backed or opposed. Burris' name was never mentioned, Guerrero said.
"The governor thinks there is a conflict of interest," Guerrero said. "It seems to the governor that Sen. Reid has a horse in the race and Roland Burris isn't one of them."
In his statement late Saturday, Reid denounced the governor's tactics.
"Gov. Blagojevich's efforts to try to tarnish others while the cloud of suspicion continues to grow over him are shameful, as are his efforts to further betray the public trust and sow seeds of division," he said.
Tribune reporter Stacy St. Clair contributed to this report.