He's Now Senator Roland Burris

Illinois GOP calls Burris a "Blagojevich Democrat"

It seemed like a long time coming, but Roland Burris took his place as Barack Obama's successor in the Senate on Thursday, ending a standoff that embarrassed the president-elect and fellow Democrats who initially resisted the appointment by impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"I do," Burris said with a grin as Vice President Dick Cheney administered the oath of office to the former Illinois attorney general who takes Obama's place as the Senate's only black member.

In attendence were were Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis Guitterez, two men who had wanted the appointment, and Rep. Bobby Rush.

More than a week after his colleagues were sworn in, Burris was seated without objection or a roll call vote, even though Majority Leader Harry Reid had said senators would have their voices heard on whether to accept his appointment.

Reid smiled broadly and applauded as Burris received a standing ovation from his new colleagues and accepted handshakes and congratulations from Republicans and Democrats alike. Later, the senior senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, held a reception in his new colleague's honor, attracting about 250 people.

It was a warm welcome that contrasted sharply with last week's treatment, when Burris showed up on Capitol Hill to be sworn in with his colleagues, only to be turned away by Reid and Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. They argued Burris' appointment wasn't valid under Senate rules.

But as the scandal-scarred Blagojevich watched, Burris dug in and the two Senate Democratic leaders ultimately relented under pressure from Obama and rank-and-file Democrats who worried the episode was distracting from more important matters and putting the party -- and the president-elect -- in a bad light.

The governor, who's been impeached by state lawmakers, is accused of trying to sell the Senate seat that had been held by President-elect Barack Obama.

An aide to Burris said "the phones are ringing off the hook," as Burris has assumed Obama's old Senate telephone number.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Republican Party blasted Democrats for letting the state become a "national embarrassment."

State GOP chairman Andy McKenna blamed Illinois Democrats for failing to pass a bill stripping Blagojevich of his appointment powers, who made the appointment after he was arrested on federal corruption charges and while lawmakers moved ahead to impeach him.

McKenna called Burris another "Blagojevich Democrat."

Burris joins the lowest of the lowly freshmen in the Senate hierarchy, forced on -- rather than elected to -- a chamber that prides itself on deliberation and independence.

If Burris expects to win the seat outright in two years, he'll need to quickly win over leaders of his party whose blessing can help raise campaign cash. That's a tall order considering the former state attorney general has little if any legislative experience. And some Senate Democrats are still smarting over being forced into seating him.

Advice for their new colleague from rank-and-file Democrats: Jump in, work hard, take distinct steps toward building good will.

Burris' first test will come with Obama's this week, when Congress decides whether to give the new president access to the second half of an unpopular $700 billion rescue for the ailing economy.

Burris has already said he would take Durbin's lead on that one.

The circumstances surrounding Burris' debut as a senator, and the abbreviated time he has to win support, make his challenge stiffer than most.

"I think it sets the bar a little higher than otherwise might be," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. "Look, he's going to be here for a limited term so he's going to have catch on quickly. And we'll try to help him along the way."

Blagojevich's involvement in Burris' appointment concerned senators, but "no one's ever had anything against Sen. Burris," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

"Like any other senator, he'll have to learn the ropes and not get lost getting to committee hearings, like I have," Klobuchar said. "I think he'll come in with people open to meeting with him and getting to know him. I think it will be just fine."

For now, Burris is just learning the basics of the Senate, where he'll be given temporary offices in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, an aide said. He'll have a powerful colleague in Illinois' other senator, Dick Durbin, who is the No. 2 official in the chamber.

The rest, Senate Democrats say, is up to Burris.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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