MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
I'm Robert Siegel. And we begin this hour with the man Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich named to fill out Barack Obama's term in the U.S. Senate. Roland Burris was the first African-American to win a statewide race in Illinois. It was for comptroller, and then he was elected attorney general. Mr. Burris, welcome to the program.
Mr. ROLAND BURRIS (Former Comptroller and Attorney General, Illinois): Thank you very much. It's my pleasure.
SIEGEL: For the foreseeable future, I think you're going to be referred to as I just did, as the man Rod Blagojevich picked. Why hang your own career and reputation on the governor's very uncertain future?
Mr. BURRIS: Permit me to respond in this way. The governor is still the governor of the state of Illinois. He has Constitutional duties and responsibilities. He sought to carry out that Constitutional duty by appointing a person, Roland Burris, to the vacancy that was created by the resignation of President-elect Barack Obama. That is a constitutional legal decision that he made. It has nothing to do with the governor. I am now the senator from the state of Illinois. You may choose to call me whatever you like. But, I am the senator, legally appointed by the governor.
SIEGEL: Well, let me put to you what Chicago Congressman Danny Davis told the Chicago Sun Times today, you know this. He says he was offered the job last week. And then he says, these are his words, it would be difficult to generate the trust level people would have to have in me. I just decided there was too much turmoil, too much disagreement. It was something I wanted to do, that is, become senator. But I said, I would not take an appointment from the governor. How did you see things differently?
Mr. BURRIS: I see things differently because I've been a statewide elected official of this state. I know the problems of the state of Illinois. I know that I can impact those problems with my position as senator from our state. I've been elected four times in the state, and therefore, the governor exercised his Constitutional duty, and appointed me. I certainly found it - it was in my interest to continue with my labor of love - is working for the people of Illinois.
SIEGEL: What's your response to the Democratic senators, and to - including Senator Obama, President-elect Obama, saying that they're disappointed in the governor's action, and they intend not to accept you in the Senate?
Mr. BURRIS: Well, and I think that they have to separate the governor's problems with the governor's duties and responsibilities. Would you venture to say that the governor's actions are illegal? Is that what they're saying?
SIEGEL: Well, they didn't say that in their letter. No. They didn't say it was illegal.
Mr. BURRIS: OK. Then if the actions are legal, then we are right in our position, and the governor has the legal authority to make the appointment.
SIEGEL: Let's say that you come to town next week, and the senators decline to seat you, what do you do?
Mr. BURRIS: Well, I think that we'll have it worked out when I come into Washington. We're not coming to, you know, to make a type of confrontation. That's not what we're about. I have the qualifications and the abilities to serve in that great, august body. I will be seated.
SIEGEL: But, in fact, Senators Reid and Durbin, the two most senior Democrats, have said the contrary, that they don't want to see you seated. It may be that...
Mr. BURRIS: Did anybody asked them why? They actually have nothing against Roland Burris. They also said that, isn't that correct? ..TEXT: SIEGEL: I think they did say that they were against seating you in the body, and I'm wondering whether you will litigate that, and if that happens, would you take them to court on it?
Mr. BURRIS: Well, if well, if - we'll take these one step at a time. We're pretty sure that we're going to negotiate this and work this out as (unintelligible) into understand what the legal rights are.
SIEGEL: Have you begun negotiating it with senators?
Mr. BURRIS: Well, I will be in touch with the Senator Durbin - you know, it's - well, after I leave my next meeting, because I've got to run.
SIEGEL: Thank you for finding time to talk with us. But do you expect to talk this evening with Senator Durbin?
Mr. BURRIS: I was, well, yes. As a matter of fact, he has called me twice. But I will certainly talk to Senator Durbin. And I wan to wish you and all the listeners a very Happy New Year. Celebrate heartily, but just keep everything safe, OK?
SIEGEL: Happy New Year. And we'd like to hear the substance of your conversation with Senator Durbin later in the week. Thanks a lot for talking with us.
Mr. BURRIS: Well, OK. Thank you so much. Happy New Year.
SIEGEL: Happy New Year. That is Roland Burris, appointed by Rod Blagojevich, Senator Roland Burris from the State of Illinois.