Senate showdown, subpoena

Roland Burris and Democratic Party leaders headed toward a symbolic showdown at the door of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday as the former Illinois attorney general presses his claim to a disputed seat.

Burris said in an interview Monday evening that he intends to try to walk onto the Senate floor to be sworn in with incoming senators when the Senate convenes Tuesday despite declarations from party leaders that they will prevent the 71-year-old, longtime politician from entering the legislative body's ornate chamber.

The imagery of authorities stopping a graying African-American man at the threshold of political power promises to be a moment of high drama in a controversy that has joined the complicated politics of race with the sensational corruption scandal swirling around Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The governor, undeterred by criminal charges that he sought to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, picked Burris last week.

But with Burris and Senate leaders balancing determination to hold their ground against a wish to avoid generating too much heat, the face-off will be choreographed.

Burris said his staff has telegraphed his intentions to Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terry Gainer—by coincidence an old acquaintance who was director of the Illinois State Police when Burris was attorney general.

"We will only go as far as the sergeant-at-arms permits us to go," Burris said. "We will then retreat and meet with our legal team."

Senate Democrats have refused to seat Burris, arguing that accusations against the governor taint his appointment of Burris. But Burris says his appointment is lawful.

"What has been done here is legal," Burris told reporters Monday before flying to Washington.

He dismissed repeated questions about the scandal surrounding Blagojevich, calling it "all politics and theater."

Because of Senate rules that restrict the use of cameras in the hallways around the second-floor entrance to the chamber, any theater over the actual refusal to admit Burris may not be captured by TV cameras. But there will plenty of opportunity for television and photographic imagery, including Burris walking up the Capitol steps to appear at the Senate's first-floor appointment desk at 10:30 Eastern Time, 9:30 a.m. in Chicago, according to a Burris associate.

Incoming senators customarily are sworn into office on the Senate floor beginning at noon in groups of four according to alphabetical order, with the other senator from their home state escorting them. By alphabetical order, Burris would be in the second group of four senators, were he to be seated.

Even before Burris boarded his flight to Washington, Senate officials rejected paperwork sent by Blagojevich to formally appoint Burris to his position, citing the refusal of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to sign the certificate.

"If he does not have a certificate that is signed, it is considered incomplete. He is absolutely under the Senate rules not allowed on the Senate floor," said Joe Shoemaker, a spokesman for Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

At a news conference at Chicago's Midway Airport, Burris repeated his insistence that he is the state's junior U.S. senator and expects to be granted his seat in Washington on Tuesday.

Burris said he still intended to meet Wednesday with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has said Burris should not be allowed in the Senate because of the "corruption surrounding Blagojevich."

"I will sit down and talk to Mr. Reid and tell him I'm here to take my seat," Burris said.

The Illinois House committee investigating whether to impeach Blagojevich has asked Burris to appear in Springfield on Wednesday, but Burris said that would have to wait because he needs to be in Washington.

"I'm a United States senator," Burris said at the airport news conference. "They cannot stop me from . . . my senatorial duties."

Burris sent the House impeachment panel an affidavit in response to their subpoena to him, which was sought by Republican members who say he needs to explain how he got the appointment.

His attorney said it was not a substitute and indicated Burris would appear at a later date.

The affidavit outlines the events leading up to the governor's offer on Dec. 28, putting into place a timeline by Burris that is aimed at underscoring his statements that nothing untoward occurred when he received Blagojevich's call.

Burris recapped how he received a call and personal visit from Sam Adam Jr., one of the governor's defense attorneys, the day after Christmas, inquiring about Burris' interest.

Burris said that he wanted a couple of days to think the offer over, and that Adam came to his house again on Sunday, Dec. 28. After he told Adam he would accept the appointment, Burris said, he got a call from Blagojevich at 4 p.m. that Sunday.

"Other than greetings, Gov. Blagojevich praising my public service record, his offer and my acceptance of the appointment to the United States Senate, and the discussion of the future press conference to announce my appointment, Gov. Blagojevich and I discussed no other topics of subject matter during the Dec. 28, 2008, telephone conversation," Burris said in the affidavit.

Mike Dorning reported from Washington and Monique Garcia from Chicago. Tribune reporter Ray Long contributed from Springfield.