ROD BLAGOJEVICH: Thank you very much.
Merry Christmas. Happy holidays. Happy new year. Feliz navidad y prospero ano nuevo.
The people of Illinois are entitled to have two United States senators represent them in Washington, D.C. As governor, I am required to make this appointment. If I don’t make this appointment, then the people of Illinois will be deprived of their appropriate voice and vote in the United States Senate. Therefore, I am here to announce my intention to appoint an individual who has unquestioned integrity, extensive experience, and is a wise and distinguished senior statesman of Illinois. This man actually once was an opponent of mine for governor.
So I’m here today to announce that I am appointing Roland Burris as the next United States senator from the Illinois. Roland Burris is no stranger to the people of our state. Between 1979 and 1992 he served the people of Illinois as the state’s comptroller and the state’s attorney general. He has had a long and distinguished career serving the people of Illinois. He will be a great United States senator. And now I would like to ask everyone to do one last thing. Please don’t allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man.
Ladies and gentlemen, Roland Burris.
ROLAND BURRIS: I will have a brief formal statement, and I will respond to a few questions. Thank you, Governor.
As a nation, we face a convergence of unparalleled crises. Our nation is locked in an economic crisis not felt since the Great Depression three-quarters of a century ago. Our nation stared down the triple-barreled threat of war in the Middle East, festering conflict in Iraq, and continued threats of terrorist breeding grounds in Afghanistan. As the greatest nation in the history of the world, the United States is confronted with a crisis of faith in our own leadership capability and in our ability to bring understanding to nations who look to us for peace and prosperity.
And the people of our great nation have told us, in no uncertain terms, that we are at a crossroads of confidence in our ability to return the ideals that make the United States the greatest nation in the world. Faced with these challenges, and challenged with these crises, it is incomprehensible that the people of the great state of Illinois will enter the 111th Congress short-handed. To fight a choking recession and return our economy to a level of vitality and strength, we need leadership in Washington.
Illinois is blessed to have an intelligent and dedicated congressional caucus led by our senior United States senator Dick Durbin. Moreover, President-elect Barack Obama has — [INAUDIBLE] — and ready to hit the ground running on January 20th. If ever there is a man with the talent to succeed against the long odds, it is he. I welcome the challenges that await us in the 111th Congress, I have faith in the record that I have forged over the past four decades, and I am proud of my accomplishments as a public servant. I accept this appointment to fill the unexpired term of President-elect Barack Obama.
I ask the people of Illinois to place the same faith and trust in me that they have in the past when they elected me three times as their state controller, and one term as their attorney general. I am humbled to have the opportunity, and promise the citizens that I will dedicate my utmost effort as their United States senator, and I will uphold the integrity of the office and ask for their continued confidence in me. Thank you all very much, and I will respond to a few questions.
[REPORTER]: Why do you believe — why do you believe that your appointment will not be tainted by the prevalent charges that are now hanging over the governor?
BURRIS: This is an appointment done by the governor of the state. And based on that, I have no relationship with that situation. I’m accepting an appointment by the governor to go to the United States Senate. That’s it.
[REPORTER]: The House — the Senate Democratic leadership — [INAUDIBLE] — they won’t — [INAUDIBLE] — won’t certify the appointment. Why do you think they’ll ever — [INAUDIBLE]?
BURRIS: That’s the process that we must look forward to, and this is one process, I’m honored, that I have been appointed. And we will deal with the next step in the process.
[REPORTER]: How long have you been in discussions about this Senate seat? Was it before or after the charges came down?
BURRIS: Well, I had talked with the governor on Sunday night, when he asked if he were to appoint me, would I accept, and my answer was yes.
[REPORTER]: Mr. Burris, up until now, virtually every elected official in the state of Illinois has weighed in on the problems of the last few weeks. Do you believe Governor Blagojevich should continue in office, or would you feel that he should resign?
BURRIS: I have no comment on what the governor’s circumstance is. And as a former attorney general of this state, I know and I think most of you all know, that in this legal process, you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty.
[REPORTER]: Mr. Burris, your law firm, your lobbying firm, you, yourself, personally have contributed well over, I believe, it’s $14,000 to Governor Blagojevich.
BURRIS: Is it that much?
BURRIS: Wow, that’s a lot of money.
[REPORTER]: Did that play a role in your appointment? And should we — should we suspect that it might?
BURRIS: How much did you say — $14,000?
BURRIS: Well, I have got to check my records because I didn’t think it was that much. We didn’t have that much money to give to the governor.
[REPORTER]: How much have you received in business from the state of Illinois — your law firm, your businesses, your colleagues, your affiliates in the last six years? And — [INAUDIBLE] — state of Illinois or any — [OFF-MIC] — business that you received — [OFF-MIC]
BURRIS: Well, sure. We had a — that is the consulting firm had a small contract. We had a contract with IDOT where we certified minority businesses, and we did a good job. And I think the law firm, of which I’m of counsel — that was my son’s law firm — and we received some bond business and we were co-bond counsel as a minority firm, and they did a tremendous job.
[REPORTER]: Give us a number.
BURRIS: I don’t have the numbers. I’m sorry.
[REPORTER]: Tell us why you guess why he did certify your appointment, and why you think the Senate will do what they said they won’t do?
BLAGOJEVICH: You want to do it?
BURRIS: No, I mean. Look…
BLAGOJEVICH: You’re the senator.
[REPORTER]: Governor? To the governor, please.
BURRIS: Oh, this is for the governor. You want to answer that?
BLAGOJEVICH: You know, let me say a couple things. I have enjoyed the limelight I have had over the last couple of weeks. I think it’s been — I don’t want to hog the limelight. This is Roland Burris’ day. So I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to really get involved in answering any questions. Let me say again that the law requires that the governor make an appointment of a United States senator in the absence of any other law that would have given the people of Illinois a chance to be able to elect the successor to the United States Senate.
And when the legislature didn’t act on this legislation they said they were considering, which I supported, which would have given the people the right to be able to elect the next senator, failing that, then it’s the governor’s responsibility to fill the vacancy. And to not fill the vacancy would be to deprive the people of Illinois of two United States senators, to deprive the people of Illinois of their appropriate voice and votes in the United States Senate. And with regard to my duty and responsibility as governor to follow the law, I would imagine that same responsibility and that same duty is one that trickles down to the other officeholders as well.
BURRIS: Congressman Rush. We got Congressman Bobby Rush here. Congressman…
BURRIS: How you doing, Congressman? All righty.
[REPORTER]: What are you prepared to do if the U.S. Senate refuses to seat your appointment? What are you prepared to do in that case?
BURRIS: We’ll have to take that under advisement. I’m pretty sure the legal team will look at that.
[REPORTER]: Do you want to run again?
[REPORTER]: Will you run again if you get the seat?
BURRIS: Well, we’ll have to determine that when we get to that point.
[REPORTER]: … address Mary’s question? If they do not seat…
[REPORTER]: … if the secretary of state of refuses to certify the appointment of Mr. Burris, will you challenge that in court? What action would you take? Governor?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, let me…
BLAGOJEVICH: Let me — I’m absolutely confident and certain that the United States Senate is going to seat a man of Roland Burris’s unquestioned integrity, extensive experience, and his long history of public service. This is about Roland Burris as a United States senator, not about the governor who makes the appointment.
[REPORTER]: Governor, because of the criminal charges against you…
[[UNIDENTIFIED MALE]: ]: Congressman Rush is coming through.
[REPORTER]: Governor, because of the criminal charges against you, they are not going to seat anybody you appoint. Why are you still making the appointment? Governor? Governor, can you hear me?
BLAGOJEVICH: Bobby, do you want to say something?
[[UNIDENTIFIED MALE]: ]: Bobby, no, no, just come on up to the…
[REPORTER]: Governor, your lawyer said, two weeks ago, you weren’t going to make an appointment.
[REPORTER]: Why — [INAUDIBLE] — make the appointment now?
BLAGOJEVICH: Bobby, do you want to say something?
BOBBY L. RUSH: Yes, I will say something.
[UNIDENTIFIED MALE]: : Congressman Rush?
RUSH: Good afternoon. And let me, first of all, thank God for this decision by Governor Blagojevich. This is a good decision. Roland Burris is worthy. He has not, in 40 years of public service, had one iota of taint on his record as a public servant. He’s an esteemed member of this state and of this community. I — my prayers have been answered because I prayed fervently that the governor would continue the legacy established by President-elect Obama and that the governor would appoint an African-American to complete the term of President Obama.
Let me just remind you that there presently is no African- American in the U.S. Senate. Let me remind you that the state of Illinois and the people in the state of Illinois and their collective wisdom, have sent two African-Americans to the U.S. Senate. That makes a difference. This is just not a state of Illinois matter, although it’s — [INAUDIBLE] — to appoint and — [INAUDIBLE] — which is in the state of Illinois, but it — [INAUDIBLE] — it has tremendous national importance — national importance. We need to have not just one African-American in the U.S. Senate. We need to have many African-Americans in the U.S. Senate.
So I applaud the governor for his decision. And I will ask you to not hang and lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer. Separate, if you will, the appointee from the appointed. Ronald Burris is worthy. He is the only one, I believe, that could stand in the gap — [INAUDIBLE] — time, and gather the confidence — reestablish the confidence of the people of the state of Illinois. As far as certification is concerned, I think that the secretary of state acted prematurely in issuing the statement.
I’m not sure whether or not he has any authority to actually certify or not. That’s up to the lawyers. I’m not a lawyer. But I do know that he should be concerned about how the people in the state of Illinois will react to him not certifying this particular individual, Roland Burris, who replaced the president-elect. As far as my colleagues in the Congress, then I intend — or we intend to persuade them, or to challenge them, or to do whatever — beg them — whatever makes haste — to get them to reverse their decision. Roland Burris stands heads and shoulders above most elected officials in this nation. And so, there is no rhyme nor reason that he should not be seated in the U.S. Senate.
This is a matter of national importance. There are no African- Americans in the Senate, and I don’t think that anyone — any U.S. senator, who’s sitting in the Senate, right now, wants to go on record to deny one African-American for being seated in the U.S. Senate. I don’t think they want to go on record doing that. And so, I intend to take that argument to the Congressional Black Caucus. I intend to take that argument to the senators. I intend to start with our own senator, Durbin, who’s a friend of mine, and I’m sure that he will stand ready to be reasoned with.
BURRIS: Thank you very much.