Just days before a high-stakes showdown in the nation's capital, the man selected to take President-elect Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat sought spiritual and political support on Sunday at a South Side Chicago church.
Warm words of support and prayers for Roland Burris contrasted with the frigid reactions from Senate leaders, many of whom say his appointment by embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is so badly stained that Burris shouldn't be seated when the new Congress convenes this week.
Burris took the stage at New Covenant Church on Sunday evening to a crescendo of drums, organ music and applause from hundreds of supporters, including black leaders and ministers.
"The appointment is legal," he said, thanking those gathered at the prayer service. "That is all there is. I don't know what all the confusion is about."
Before the service, Burris supporter U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush and about 60 ministers condemned Senate Democratic leaders for rejecting Burris.
Rush, a Chicago Democrat, called the Senate "the last bastion of plantation politics."
"We are just faced with a hard-headed room of people in the Senate who want to keep an African-American out of the Senate," Rush said.
The Senate's top two Democrats defended their right to deny the seat to Burris, while refusing to rule out a deal as Congress and its new members begin work this week.
Democrats say Burris' appointment is tainted because it was made by Blagojevich, who is accused by federal authorities of offering to sell the vacancy to the highest bidder. Burris, a former state attorney general, says the appointment is legal and the governor had the authority to do it. He has threatened to sue Senate Democrats if they refuse to swear him in as the chamber's only black member.
"Anything can happen," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. But he described the chances of Burris joining the Senate as "very difficult."
The second-ranking Democrat, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, acknowledged that his governor has the state constitutional authority to fill the vacancy. "The Senate of the United States has the U.S. constitutional responsibility to decide if Mr. Burris was chosen in a proper manner and that is what we're going to do," Durbin said.
Burris said he is scheduled to meet with Durbin on Wednesday and possibly could meet with Reid the same day.
Obama has said he agrees with Senate Democrats. But Burris told AP Radio on Sunday that he feels support from Obama.
"He's gotten some advice from other individuals and its not correct advice," Burris said.
While the Burris furor dominated public discussion, Illinois lawmakers quietly continued work that could lead to Blagojevich being removed from office.
Members of the Illinois House impeachment committee reviewed a 54-page draft summary of the allegations against the Democratic governor. Lawmakers said the summary did not include any recommendations on whether Blagojevich should be impeached. That will come after the panel finishes its fact-finding – perhaps by the middle of this week.
The impeachment committee hopes to learn Monday whether it will be given access to some of the federal government's recordings of Blagojevich. It also wants Burris to testify about his conversations with the governor that led to the Senate appointment.
Burris intended to depart for Washington on Monday.
Reid said he expected to meet with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on Monday evening in hopes "we can solve this issue on a bipartisan basis."
Democratic leaders, however, plan to afford Burris few, if any, privileges even if he were to come to the Capitol with the proper credentials. Senate officials have said a Democrat will object to Burris being duly sworn with the rest of his class Tuesday and will propose that his credentials be reviewed for a time by the Senate Rules Committee. That would give Burris the status of a senator-elect and buy some time as Democrats hope Blagojevich will be removed from office before the committee completes its investigation.
Also Sunday, Reid denied a published report that he told Blagojevich in early December that he opposed the appointments of Democratic Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Danny Davis to the Senate seat out of fear they would lose the seat to a Republican in the 2010 general election. Reid also allegedly opposed Emil Jones, the powerful black leader of the Illinois Senate, on the same grounds.
"I didn't tell him who not to appoint. He's making all this up to divert attention," Reid said. "Anyone who suggests anything racial is part of the Blagojevich spin to take (attention) away from the corruption." The Chicago Sun-Times reported Saturday that in an early December call to the governor, Reid urged Blagojevich to appoint either Illinois Veterans Affairs chief Tammy Duckworth or Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Reid appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," while Durbin and McConnell were on "This Week" on ABC.