Using conciliatory language, Senate Democrats said Wednesday they would wait for a decision by the Illinois Supreme Court before deciding whether to allow Roland Burris to take the seat formerly occupied by President-elect Barack Obama.
Speaking later, Burris said he expected "very shortly" to represent his state in the U.S. Senate.
In an awkward episode Tuesday, Burris was turned away from the Senate for failing to have the proper credentials. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White had refused to sign an official document for the appointment of Burris, made by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who faces federal corruption charges. Burris has appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court to decide whether the signature is required.
On Wednesday, White said his signature was "mostly ceremonial, rather than being a point of law." That appeared to provide an opening for Burris.
Democratic leaders met with the appointee Wednesday on Capitol Hill. They praised the former Illinois attorney general's integrity while leaving their options open about eventually accepting his appointment.
"For a person to be appointed by a governor, you have to have the signature of the governor and the secretary of state. Now, that matter is in the courts," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters after the meeting.
He said he thought the Illinois high court would make a decision "soon."
"There's going to come a time when the entire Senate will have to act on this and that day, I hope, will come sooner rather than later," Reid said. "We want to do everything we can to make sure that everything that has been done is transparent."
At a later press conference Wednesday afternoon to roll out the Democrats' domestic agenda, Reid was asked if he and Obama were outmaneuvered by Blagojevich. "That's simply not true," Reid replied.
When asked it he viewed it as an act of disloyalty to challenge the leaders' position on Burris, Reid said he'd "only received one phone call from one senator."
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who also met with Burris, said he hoped the legal wrangling will be resolved "so we can fill all the vacancies and have a full complement of the Senate."
At a news conference Wednesday, Obama said the issue of appointing Burris to the president-elect's vacated seat was "a Senate matter."
"I know Roland Burris — obviously he's from my home state. I think he is a fine public servant. If he is seated, I will work with Roland Burris like I would work with anyone else," Obama said.
If seated, Burris, a Democrat, would become the Senate's only black member.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Rules Committee, told reporters Tuesday evening that Burris should be seated.
"If you don't seat Mr. Burris, it has ramifications for gubernatorial appointments all over America," she said. "Mr. Burris is a senior, experienced politician. He has been attorney general, he has been controller and he is very well-respected. I am hopeful that this will be settled."
"I think things will work out," she said, once an Illinois court rules on whether the secretary of state's signature is needed, and senators are convinced there's no taint to the appointment.
Blagojevich appointed Burris last week despite having been arrested on charges that he was was involved in a scheme to sell or trade Obama's vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder. Blagojevich has denied the accusations and has yet to be indicted.
With additional reporting by Liz Halloran on Capitol Hill.