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Reid: ‘Legal authority’ exists to bar Burris

Appearing on "Meet the Press," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Sunday that while the “legal authority” exists to bar the “tainted” appointment of Roland Burris, there is room to negotiate.

Under the Constitution, Reid said, "we determine who sits in the Senate, and the House determines who sits in the House. So there's clearly legal authority for us to do whatever we want to do. This goes back for generations."

Calling Illinois Gov. Blagojevich's appointment of Burris unworthy by association, Reid said, "There is a cloud over Blagojevich, and at this stage, over the state of Illinois. As long as Blagojevich has done the appointing, it's really a tainted appointment."

In addition, Reid accused the embattled governor of attempting to mask his problems. "The state of Illinois deserves a vote in the U.S. Senate ... it's too bad Blagojevich has diverted attention from the real issue."

"He should do the right thing and step down," Reid said, claiming that Pat Quinn, the lieutenant governor of Illinois and Blagojevich's potential successor, could easily appoint Burris if he deemed him the right man for the job.

Reid also said that his position was not influenced by the future electability of a Blagojevich appointee but by an adherence to ethics and the law. "This has nothing to do with 2010 and everything to do with a corrupt governor," Reid said.

Citing direct phone conversations he had had with both Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and New York Gov. David Patterson — Democrats who are charged with filling empty Senate seats — Reid insisted that he was not attempting to exert any political pressure, explaining that he told Ritter, "Governor, you appoint whoever is best in your mind for the state of Colorado."

However, Reid wouldn't go so far to say that Burris stands no chance of joining him in the Senate. "It's going to be very difficult for that to occur," he told moderator David Gregory, but added: "I'm an old trial lawyer; there's always room to negotiate."

Discussing President-elect Barack Obama's proposed economic stimulus plans, Reid said that any stimulus package must have broad support. "Whatever we do must be done on a bipartisan basis. We must recognize the economy is in deep trouble."

Responding to Gregory's question about the plan's timing, Reid said that Congress will move as quickly as possible on the package, but declined to predict when it will be ready for Obama to sign into law. "I'm not going to give a timeline, we're going to do it as quickly as we can."