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Burris sworn in as Obama successor

Friday, January 16, 2009

WASHINGTON -- 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 scandal-scarred 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.

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.

Illinois delegation members and members of the Congressional Black Caucus joined Democratic and Republican senators in giving Burris a congratulatory standing ovation, handshakes and hugs on the Senate floor.

Senate Democrats wanted to move beyond the distracting controversy and its racial undertones.

Both Reid and Illinois' senior senator, Dick Durbin, smiled broadly and praised Burris in speeches, insisting anew that their previous resistance wasn't about Burris personally but rather about how he was appointed.

"To Senator Burris, on behalf of all senators -- Democrats and Republicans -- we welcome you as a colleague and as a friend," Reid said.

Durbin also offered his congratulations before throwing a reception in his new colleague's honor, saying: "I know this was a rocky road to this great day in his life but a road well traveled."

Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero said the governor would not have a comment.

Later in a stately parlor off the Senate floor, Burris told his family, friends and a few colleagues that being seated in the Senate was "a dream come true," and pledged to uphold the Constitution and do his best to represent Illinois. As the crowd snacked on brownie bars and cookies, a few Senate Democrats stopped by, including John Kerry of Massachusetts, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and Chuck Schumer of New York.

It was a warmer welcome than the one Burris received last week when he showed up on Capitol Hill to be sworn in with his colleagues, only to be turned away into the cold and rain by Senate Democratic leaders who argued that Burris' appointment wasn't valid under Senate rules.

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

No sooner was Burris sworn on Thursday than he was expected to cast his first vote, on whether to give Obama access to the second half of the $700 billion financial bailout.

The vote was expected to be close; of the 99 senators, Obama needs a majority to get the money. There is one Senate vacancy because the election in Minnesota between GOP Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken is unresolved.

With Burris, Democrats now control the Senate 58 to 41.

Obama's election created a flurry of new faces in the Senate, as he chose senators to fill key posts in his administration.

Earlier Thursday, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, the incoming vice president, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, nominated to be the next secretary of state, bid goodbye to the Senate. Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado also was departing to become Interior Secretary.

Longtime Biden confidant Edward "Ted" Kaufman will replace him, while Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet will succeed Salazar. New York Gov. David Paterson has yet to appoint Clinton's successor, though his deliberations have been closely watched because Caroline Kennedy, the scion of a political dynasty, wants the job.

Obama resigned the Senate days after the November election.

A few weeks later, Blagojevich -- who had the power to appoint Obama's successor -- was arrested on charges that included trying to trade access to Obama's Senate seat for personal gain.

Late last month, Blagojevich shocked Obama's team and Democrats in Washington when he appointed Burris to the seat. This month, Blagojevich became the first Illinois governor to be impeached.

Reid and Durbin initially balked at accepting the appointment, and Obama, too, made his displeasure known.

But Burris hung in. He testified under oath that he promised nothing in return for the appointment, and he got his Illinois paperwork in order. After a week of tangling, Burris got Senate Democrats to accept the appointment on Monday.

He will finish out Obama's two-year term as among the lowest of the lowly freshmen in the Senate hierarchy.

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 he has little if any legislative experience. And some Senate Democrats are still smarting over being all but forced to seat him.


Associated Press Writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.


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