Dick Durbin, Illinois' senior senator and the second-ranking Democrat in the U.S. Senate, summoned embattled Sen. Roland Burris to his office Tuesday to advise him to leave as other members of the clubby institution offered the junior senator a polite but chilly reception.
"I told him that under the circumstances, I would consider resigning if I were in his shoes," Durbin told reporters after an hour-long meeting with Burris, also an Illinois Democrat. "He said he would not resign, and that was his conclusion."
"I've made my recommendation to Senator Burris," Durbin added, later explaining, "I can't force him out."
Burris tried to duck an awaiting swarm of reporters by leaving Durbin's office through a side door but was cornered at an elevator bank, ignoring questions while he waited for the doors to open.
He said he was "under orders not to say anything." When pressed, Burris said the instructions came from his attorneys.
Returning to the Capitol for the first time since he changed his story about his appointment to the Senate and acknowledged that he tried to raise money for impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich while seeking the seat, Burris received few signs of support from his fellow members.
While the Senate has been in recess for its week-long President's Day break, a lengthening list of public officials from Burris's home state have called for his resignation, including Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and several members of the state's congressional delegation.
A phalanx of television cameras waited for Burris outside his office. On the Senate floor, fellow senators shook his hand as they encountered him, but few walked up to greet him.
He spent most of a 15-minute vote standing by himself at a desk, apart from the throng of senators milling about in the well of the chamber catching up after the break.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had a conversation with Burris lasting several minutes on the Senate floor. The majority leader could be seen gesturing with his hands as if enumerating points with his fingers.
A Reid spokesman said the two only exchanged courtesies and did not have a "substantive" conversation.
Asked if Reid agreed with Durbin's recommendation that Burris resign, spokesman Jim Manley responded, "That is up to Senator Burris to decide."
Asked his view of Burris, the usually garrulous Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), another key Democratic leader, shrugged his shoulders and turned up his hands.
"That's what I think," Schumer said, before turning his back and walking into the Senate chamber.
"I don't have anything to say. Let's let this play out a little bit," said Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who survived a prostitution scandal, called on Burris to resign, telling The Hill newspaper that Burris "misled the Illinois Legislature and the voters of the Illinois."
On NBC's "Today" this morning, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said of Burris that "the representations he's made have proved to be untrue" about the extent of contacts with Blagojevich allies in seeking the post.
"Sen. Burris needs to take some time and think about whether he can actually help this country, whether he can serve the constituents of Illinois," Gibbs said.
Durbin said his Senate colleagues are "grasping, as I am, to try to get to the truth of this situation. They're confused and concerned about disclosures that have been made."
Durbin, in keeping with the chummy ways of the Senate and the political sensitivities of home-state constituencies, used carefully parsed words to put himself on record suggesting Burris leave the Senate. But by summoning reporters to a press conference he made the public break clear.
"Get the quote carefully," Durbin said at one point, before repeating a formulation that he used again and again in the press conference: "What I said was, you know, if I were in your shoes, I would consider resigning."
Durbin also asked for a commitment from Burris on whether he would run for re-election in 2010 but was rebuffed, Durbin said.
Durbin said he told Burris it would be "extremely difficult" for him to win a re-election primary and "I would not be supporting him in the 2010 election."
The senior senator added that the controversy already had reduced Burris's effectiveness as a senator.
"I think we found that there are limits, when he can't travel to certain places because of media questions," Durbin said. "He is limited in what he can do because of the circumstances. Maybe that will change. I don't know."
Asked about Durbin's press conference, Burris spokesman Jim O'Connor referred to a statement released last week asking that political figures and the media avoid "a rush to judgment."
"That applies to Senator Durbin as well," O'Connor said.
In a sign that Burris may not be planning to exit the scene soon, longtime media adviser Delmarie Cobb announced she has gone to work for the junior senator and said in a news release her work for Burris involves "his fight to keep the Illinois Senate seat."
"Sen. Burris is in the fight of his life, not only to rehabilitate his reputation but to restore the public's trust in the wake of a media frenzy, information leaks, and calls for his resignation by a litany of so-called 'progressive' Democrats," Cobb said in a statement.
Cobb, who worked for Burris' 1998 and 2002 campaigns for Illinois governor, said she believed he had done nothing wrong.
"I've spent many hours with Sen. Burris over the course of two statewide campaigns," she said. "During that time, I never saw or heard anything that would cause me to believe he took part in any wrongdoing, which is why I'm joining him in the fight to keep the nation's only Senate seat held by an African American."
Tribune reporter Rick Pearson contributed from Chicago.