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Democrats drop objections to Roland Burris appointment

The former state attorney general picked by embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich as Barack Obama's replacement expects to be seated this week. He extends an olive branch to his opponents.

January 13, 2009|Jill Zuckman and Christi Parsons

WASHINGTON — His appointment finally endorsed by U.S. Senate leadership, Roland Burris said Monday he expects to be sworn in this week as Barack Obama's replacement.

Burris, a former Illinois attorney general, extended an olive branch to the Democrats who had stood in his way after he was nominated by embattled Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich.

He singled out for thanks two of his foremost opponents, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois. "It will be my honor to both serve with them and to learn from them," Burris said.

And he said he "owed a debt of gratitude" to Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who had initially refused to sign papers certifying his nomination. Burris called White "an honorable man" who "stood for what he believed was right."

Senate Democrats initially balked when Blagojevich announced he was appointing Burris to the Senate seat. Their objection, they said, had nothing to do with Burris, but the fact that he had been appointed by a governor facing federal corruption charges, including that he tried to sell the Senate seat.

It became clear that Burris had won his battle to become the junior senator from Illinois when Senate Democratic leaders dropped their objections. The agreement came after Senate lawyers said Burris met the chamber's rules and could be sworn in.

The Senate Democratic leaders told Burris last week that he needed to testify before the Illinois House impeachment committee about his relationship with Blagojevich and submit a signature from the Illinois secretary of state certifying his appointment.

Burris testified at the impeachment panel last week that there was no quid pro quo, and the secretary of state signed his appointment on Friday.

"Barring objections from Senate Republicans, we expect Senator-designee Burris to be sworn in and formally seated later this week," said a joint statement from Reid and Durbin, the assistant Senate majority leader.

"As we had outlined to Mr. Burris, a path needed to be followed that respects the rules of the Senate. We committed to Mr. Burris that once those requirements were satisfied, we would be able to proceed," Reid and Durbin said in the statement. "We are pleased that everything is now in order, we congratulate Senator-designee Burris on his appointment and we look forward to working with him in the 111th Congress."

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, say they have no objection to the seating of Burris, who waged a lonely struggle to claim the seat, even standing in the rain outside the Capitol after officials turned him away.

The Blagojevich-Burris saga caused heartburn for senators, as they watched a governor accused of corruption and facing federal indictment trying to force them to accept a senator of his choosing and accusing Reid, the Senate majority leader, of racism.

The secretary of the Senate originally denied Burris' request to be seated, citing a rule dating back to 1884 that requires an appointee to present both a nomination from his home state governor and a certification by the secretary of state. Burris had one, but not the other.

White reversed course Friday evening. He submitted a signed certificate stamped with the state seal attesting that the accompanying Blagojevich appointment letter is a "true and accurate copy" of what was registered by the secretary of state.

Although the Burris appointment was widely seen as an effort by Blagojevich to use racial politics to help his own cause, the move appears to have had no impact: Blagojevich has been impeached by the Illinois House and Burris is likely to take his seat in the U.S. Senate long before the governor faces trial and likely removal from office.

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jzuckman@tribune.com

cparsons@tribune.com

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