Obama's Senate replacement turned away from Capitol Hill

 

US SENATE officials yesterday turned away Illinois attorney general Roland Burris when he arrived on Capitol Hill to claim the seat vacated by president-elect Barack Obama.

Mr Burris was appointed to the seat by embattled governor Rod Blagojevich but Illinois secretary of state Jesse White declined to sign his nomination certificate.

"I presented my credentials to the secretary of the Senate and was advised that my credentials are not in order, and I will not be accepted, and will not be seated, and will not be permitted on the floor," Mr Burris said.

"Therefore, I am not seeking to have any kind of confrontation. I will consult with my attorneys on what my next step will be."

Senate majority leader Harry Reid has said that Mr Burris (71) should not be admitted to the Senate because Mr Blagojevich is under investigation for allegedly trying to sell the seat to the highest bidder.

Mr Obama agrees that the governor should not appoint his successor but Mr Burris's attorney, Timothy Wright, claimed yesterday that the Senate had no authority to turn his client away.

"We have determined that Roland Burris is the junior senator for the state of Illinois. There is no vacancy. That vacancy has been filled by current governor. Therefore the new senator is Roland Burris," he said.

Mr Burris claims that his appointment does not need the approval of anyone other than Mr Blagojevich, who has not been convicted of any offence or impeached by the state legislature.

"As I read the US Constitution, it says the governor shall fill a vacancy, and as a former attorney general of my state, I have no knowledge of where a secretary of state has veto power over a governor carrying out his constitutional duties," Mr Burris told CBS News.

If Mr Burris takes his seat, he will be the only African-American in the Senate and some black congressmen have urged Democratic leaders to reconsider their opposition to his appointment.

Mr Reid has signalled that he is open to making a deal with Mr Burris, perhaps allowing him to take his seat if he agrees not to run for re-election in 2010.

Minnesota's board of elections this week confirmed former comedian Al Franken as the state's junior senator after a recount gave the Democrat a lead of 225 votes. Franken was not sworn in yesterday, however, because his Republican rival, Norm Coleman, is challenging the election.

Yesterday's drama on Capitol Hill came as leading Democrats criticised Mr Obama's choice of Leon Panetta, a former chief of staff to president Bill Clinton, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Most former CIA directors have been intelligence professionals, although former president George Bush snr occupied the post under Richard Nixon despite having no experience in the field.

Incoming Senate intelligence committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said she had not been consulted about the choice of Mr Panetta and made clear her disapproval.

"I know nothing about this, other than what I've read," she said.

"My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time."

Ms Feinstein's predecessor as intelligence committee chairman, West Virginia senator John Rockefeller, is also reported to be unhappy about the choice.

The CIA has in the past been unwelcoming of leaders it perceives as outsiders and one of George Bush's CIA directors, former Republican congressman Porter Goss, was forced out of office by internal pressure after two years.

Although he was a former intelligence officer and chairman of the House intelligence committee, Mr Goss angered CIA staff by introducing managers from outside the agency.

Mr Panetta, who was a member of Congress from 1977 to 1993, has been a powerful critic of the use of torture by CIA interrogators, a practice Mr Obama has promised to end.

"We have made clear that there are certain lines Americans will not cross because we respect the dignity of every human being," Mr Panetta wrote last month in the Washington Monthly.

"We cannot simply suspend these beliefs in the name of national security. Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain select circumstances and still be true to our values. But that is a false compromise.

"We either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don't. There is no middle ground. We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that."