By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
The Senate will swear in Roland W. Burris as the junior senator from Illinois this week, ending a standoff that had become an embarrassment for Democratic leaders and President-elect Barack Obama.
"The Secretary of the Senate has determined that the new credentials presented today on behalf of Mr. Burris now satisfy Senate rules and validate his appointment to the vacant Illinois Senate seat," read a joint statement from Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin (Ill.).
"We have spoken to Mr. Burris to let him know that he is now the Senator-designate from Illinois and as such, will be accorded all the rights and privileges of a Senator-elect," the statement continued. "We are working with him and the office of the Vice President to determine the date and time of the swearing-in."
Reid accepted Burris's appointment after the former state attorney general's lawyer visited the Capitol yesterday afternoon with new documentation attesting to its legality. Burris was named to succeed Obama by Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who is battling federal corruption charges, including allegations that he tried to sell the Senate appointment for personal and financial gain.
Burris has not been implicated in the Blagojevich case, but Reid initially deemed the appointment "tainted" because of Blagojevich's legal woes.
Although the Illinois Supreme Court ruled last week that the paperwork certifying Burris's appointment, which was signed by Blagojevich, was valid, Reid and other Democrats have insisted on signatures from both the governor and the Illinois secretary of state.
On Friday evening, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White signed a separate letter validating the appointment. Burris also appeared before an Illinois House impeachment panel and testified that Blagojevich asked for nothing in exchange for the seat -- something else Reid said would be required for Burris to have his support.
Burris will hold the seat until a special election in 2010, a showdown that Republicans are eagerly anticipating, given the appointment spectacle, not to mention the Blagojevich taint that the appointee could carry into that race.
"By failing to strip Rod Blagojevich of his senate appointment power, Democrats chose to trust a madman over the people of Illinois," state GOP Chairman Andy McKenna said in a statement. "Today's endorsement of Rod Blagojevich's handpicked choice for U.S. Senate confirms what Republicans have been saying for years -- that Illinois is in dire need of change."
Speaking to reporters in Chicago, Burris said he was eager to take the oath and said he bore no hard feelings toward Democratic leaders in Washington who had resisted seating him. "It will be my honor to both serve with them and to learn from them," Burris said.