WASHINGTON - Democratic leaders seeking to bar Roland Burris from the Senate suffered an important crack in support as they prepared to meet with him today to begin negotiations over whether he will be able to take the seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and outgoing chairwoman of the committee that judges senators' credentials, urged that the Senate seat Burris, arguing that his appointment by Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich was lawful regardless of the corruption allegations swirling around the Illinois governor.
Still, a Democrat leadership aide said Feinstein's position does not alter party leaders' stance that Burris should not be allowed to take the Senate seat.
The former Illinois attorney general was not allowed onto the Senate floor yesterday for the opening day of the new Congress. But he attracted more attention than anyone who took the oath of office.
Throngs of reporters and camera crews waited in a steady drizzle for Burris to arrive, then the news media contingent filled a hallway outside an office while Senate officials sat across a table from Burris and rejected his credentials. Capitol Police had to clear the way for Burris as he walked outside to a news conference.
Afterward, Burris' attorneys moved to amend a state lawsuit they have filed to bolster their case for an expedited court decision on their request for an order requiring Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to co-sign the governor's appointment of Burris.
White has refused to sign the appointment, and the Senate officially refused to seat Burris on the grounds that his certificate was not co-signed.
Burris' legal team is also preparing a federal lawsuit over the Senate seat.