WASHINGTON – Eager to put the scandal-tainted standoff behind them, Senate Democrats accepted Roland Burris as President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate successor Monday and said they expect to swear in the new Illinois senator this week.
“He is now the senator-designate from Illinois and, as such, will be accorded all the rights and privileges of a senator-elect,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said in a joint statement.
At a news conference in Chicago, Burris called himself honored and humbled to be the state’s next junior senator.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve,” he said and added: “I recognize that my appointment triggered a challenging time for many.”
Monday’s development prevented the impasse that has plagued Democrats from dragging on into Obama’s inauguration festivities that will begin this weekend, and it capped a grudging, gradual retreat by top Senate Democrats.
Initially they had tried to dissuade Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who faces a state Senate impeachment trial, from making an appointment and suggested that his pick would not be seated. Last week, Burris’ credentials were rejected by Senate Democrats in a circus-like atmosphere that tarnished the opening day festivities of the new Congress.
But Reid and Durbin said they now anticipate that Burris, a former Illinois attorney general, will be seated this week, barring objections from Republicans.
They made the announcement after Burris’ lawyers delivered to the Capitol documents certifying his appointment to Obama’s seat, and the secretary of the Senate determined that the paperwork met Senate requirements.
While a victory for Burris, the move is a major reversal for Senate Democrats.
Even though Burris does not stand accused of wrongdoing, Senate Democrats rejected Burris last week only to quickly backpedal after Obama himself privately weighed in and senators fretted that the situation was diverting their focus at a critical time.