WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid opened the possibility Sunday that former Illinois Atty. Gen. Roland Burris might serve in the Senate despite the aggressive opposition of Democratic leaders to his appointment by a scandal-tarnished governor.
"I'm an old trial lawyer. There's always room to negotiate," said Reid, a Nevada Democrat, on NBC's "Meet the Press."
When pressed by host David Gregory on whether there was a possibility Burris might ultimately be seated, Reid responded, "That's right."
Reid and Assistant Majority Leader Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) agreed over the weekend to meet with Burris on Wednesday, the day after Congress reconvenes.
Still, a Democratic Senate aide cautioned that Reid's statements were not meant as an overture but merely an attempt to leave open the possibility of a negotiated settlement, and said that leaders remained determined not to seat Burris.
In appearances on talk shows Sunday, Reid and Durbin argued that Burris' appointment was hurt by corruption charges against Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, and that the Senate had the power to refuse Burris a seat.
Reid called Burris' selection "a tainted appointment" because of Blagojevich's arrest last month on charges that the Democratic governor tried to sell off the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
"Blagojevich obviously is a corrupt individual; I think that's pretty clear," Reid said. "And the reason he's done what he has done [in appointing Burris] is to divert attention from the arrest that was just made of him and the indictment which will be coming in just a few days, according to the U.S. attorney."
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."
Burris and Senate Democratic leaders remain on a collision course.
One contingency plan calls for armed guards to keep Burris from the Senate floor while new members are being sworn into office when Congress reconvenes Tuesday.
Burris planned to meet with pastors in a vigil Sunday night before flying to Washington today.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on ABC News' "This Week" that the seat should be filled through a special election in Illinois.
"The process is so tainted," McConnell said. "It is such a tangled mess that the only way to clear the air and to have a successor chosen in Illinois that everybody can have confidence in, and a process that they can have confidence in, would be to have a special election."