As Burris Tries to Settle In at the Senate, He Faces New Questions
Sunday, May 31, 2009
KANKAKEE, Ill. -- Roland W. Burris entered the Senate in an exceptional fashion, but he has worked hard to reshape his tenure into a traditional one.
In Washington, Burris (D-Ill.) has worked to blend in with the clubby Senate, chatting with colleagues on the floor between votes and frequently presiding over sessions in the chamber, as the most junior members are required to do. Back in Illinois last week and touring part of the state, he was greeted at a veterans hospital in Danville with a "Welcome Senator Burris" sign.
For all of that, though, Burris remains unable to shake how he got to the Senate in the first place.
The former Illinois attorney general found himself on the defensive again last week, after the release Tuesday of an FBI recording from last November in which he both pressed to be Barack Obama's replacement in the Senate and offered fundraising help to then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D). One month later, Blagojevich appointed Burris to the Senate.
"We wanted the tapes to be released. We thought it would show Roland hadn't done anything out of the ordinary," said Delmarie Cobb, a political adviser to Burris. "It didn't turn out the way we hoped. The headlines are all that he promised to do something personally" to help Blagojevich.
The controversy is crimping Burris's ability to tout the work he has been able to do in a job he long coveted. For his five-city tour of Illinois, Burris's office had scheduled private chats with local officials at each stop, followed by a news conference in which the senator could discuss what he learned.
The release of the FBI recording changed those plans. Instead, at each stop, Burris would talk to reporters about Illinois policy issues, then pull out his binder and read a statement in the hope of heading off questions on his connections to Blagojevich.
"Did I want to be appointed to the Senate seat? Yes, I did, I told everybody who would listen," Burris read. "Did I try to buy the Senate seat? Never. . . . Did I commit perjury? No. Have I stated the truth all along? . . . I did not lie to anyone about the events leading to my appointment."
The effort failed. Despite announcing he would take only one question on the subject after an event in Springfield, Burris, more prideful than self-disciplined, took five questions about his connections to Blagojevich, as his aides grimaced. After meeting with the mayor of Kankakee, Burris again found himself rejecting the suggestion that he had given shifting stories on the controversy.
He finally walked away, ignoring shouted questions about how he felt about some Illinois state representatives calling on him to resign.
In an interview, Burris dismissed any suggestion that the continuing controversy would affect his work.
"I'm going full steam ahead," Burris said. "I have nothing to hide. I have done nothing wrong."