Seating Senators Could Be Problem
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris. Tomorrow promises to be a dramatic day in the Senate. The 111th Congress will be sworn in. And normally that means everyone who was elected in November or appointed by a governor will be sworn in, but this is not a normal year. The governor of New York has not yet named a replacement to take Hillary Clinton's seat. And today in Minnesota, Democrat Al Franken officially won a very, very, very long recount in a Senate race against Republican Norm Coleman. But Coleman intends to mount a court challenge. And the would-be senator from Illinois, Roland Burris, defied Democratic leaders and caught a plane to Washington, as NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA: Before boarding a commercial flight from Chicago to Washington earlier today, Roland Burris held a scrappy news conference near the Southwest Airlines ticket counter. He told reporters he was heading to Washington for just one reason.
Mr. ROLAND BURRIS (Democrat, Illinois Senator-Designate): I am going there to be seated. I am the junior senator from the state of Illinois. That's all I can say.
Unidentified Man: You haven't been sworn in yet.
Mr. BURRIS: Well, I will give - I'll look to be sworn in. But I am the senator.
WELNA: But Burris is, in fact, not a senator until he's sworn in. This morning, a representative of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich presented the paperwork to the secretary of the Senate for Burris's appointment to the vacant Senate seat, but that paperwork was not formally accepted. That's because it lacks the required signature of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. He has refused to certify any appointments made by Blagojevich since the governor was arrested nearly a month ago on corruption charges. Burris, nonetheless, seemed upbeat about his prospects, even though Majority Leader Harry Reid has only agreed to talk with him on Wednesday, the day after senators are sworn in.
Mr. BURRIS: Well, I will sit down and talk to Mr. Reid. I'm going to tell him I'm here to take my seat.
WELNA: But Reid this afternoon downplayed any chance of Burris being sworn in anytime soon.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): Roland Burris has not been certified by the state of Illinois. When that takes place, we'll, of course, review it. At this stage, we're waiting to see what's going to happen in Illinois.
WELNA: Reid said he expects the Illinois Legislature to conclude impeachment proceedings against Governor Blagojevich early next month. Meanwhile, in a move that buys time, the appointment of Burris is likely to be referred to the Senate Rules Committee for further study.
The other Senate seat still in limbo is the one that's been held by Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman. Today that state's Canvassing Board certified results of a month-long recount that give Democratic challenger Al Franken a lead of 225 votes in the election. But Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie added a word of caution.
Secretary MARK RITCHIE (Democrat, Minnesota State Department): Simply we are certifying the results from November 4th election. We're not doing anything today that declares winners or losers or anything to that effect.
WELNA: That did not keep Franken from calling a news conference in St. Paul this afternoon to proclaim victory.
Mr. AL FRANKEN (Democrat, Minnesota Senator-Elect): I am proud to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota.
WELNA: And here at the U.S. Capitol, Majority Leader Reid declared that Franken had indeed won the election.
Senator REID: The race in Minnesota is over. Now, it's only a little finger pointing. The certification by the Canvassing Board, which has been in process for a number of weeks now, clearly shows that Al Franken has won. And based upon any of the allegations that Senator Coleman has made, there is no way he can catch up. That race is over.
WELNA: Reid's spokesman said Senate Democrats may try to have Franken sworn in tomorrow, even though it will be at least a week before Minnesota Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty can sign a certificate of election. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly threw cold water on any chance his fellow Republicans would allow Franken to be seated.
Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): The race in Minnesota is not over until the people in Minnesota say it's over. And the way you say it's over in Minnesota is somebody shows up here with an election certificate. It's my understanding that isn't going to happen tomorrow.
WELNA: And it may not happen for some time. Coleman has not conceded. Instead, he's called a news conference for tomorrow afternoon after senators are to be sworn in. And Coleman's lawyers issued a statement this afternoon calling the Canvassing Board's recount totals, quote, "invalid and unreliable." They say they will mount a legal challenge to those results. And a certificate of election cannot be issued by Governor Pawlenty until that legal challenge has been resolved, a process that could take weeks or months. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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