UPDATE 1-Reid cites 'legal authority' to bar Illinois pick

Sun Jan 4, 2009 3:12pm GMT

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WASHINGTON Jan 4 (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Sunday that "legal authority" exists under the Constitution to bar embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's pick to fill President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat, but added there is also room to negotiate.

Under the Constitution, Reid said, "We determine who sits in the Senate. And the House (of Representatives) 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."

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Reid said he plans to meet on Wednesday with Blagojevich's choice for the Senate, Roland Burris, 71, the former Illinois attorney general, a fellow Democrat.

Asked if there was room for a possible settlement, Reid said, "I'm an old trial lawyer. There is always room to negotiate."

New members will be sworn in on Tuesday with the opening of the new Congress.

Reid called Burris a "tainted appointment" because of the governor's alleged misconduct, although he said he did not know of anything wrong with Burris himself.

Blagojevich, who was arrested on Dec. 9 and accused of trying to sell Obama's vacant seat, is facing impeachment in the Illinois legislature in the state capital of Springfield. Blagojevich has denied the corruption charges and has refused demands by Obama and others to resign as governor.

Reid said he planned to meet on Monday to discuss the matter with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. "I hope we can can solve this issue on a bipartisan basis," Reid said.

Asked if Burris will become a U.S. senator, Reid said, "It will be very difficult for that to occur." But he added, "Anything can happen."

(Reporting by Will Dunham and Thomas Ferraro, editing by Philip Barbara)