Former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris told the Illinois Senate president early Tuesday of Blagojevich's decision to appoint him.
Senate leaders, scattered for the holidays, immediately convened a conference call to respond to what they saw as a sticky situation. Some involved in the call were wary of being seen as denying a black man a seat in a chamber where there are no blacks, according to two officials knowledgeable about the talks who requested anonymity in order to speak freely.
That sensitivity is why the statement includes a section explicitly saying that any "shadow" of impropriety or the Democrats' refusal to seat Burris was a reflection on Blagojevich, not Burris.
"We say this without prejudice toward roland Burris' ability, and we respect his years of public service," the leaders wrote in the statement. "But this is not about M. Burris; it is about the integrity of a governor accused of attempting to sell this United States Senate seat."
Blagojevich denies the charges and has rejected calls for his resignation.
The last time the Senate refused to seat a member was in 1947, when Mississippi Democrat Theodore Bilbo was accused of corruption and bribery, according to Don Ritchie, associate Senate historian.