Without fanfare, Burris sworn in as U.S. senator

January 16, 2009|By James Oliphant | James Oliphant,Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON - Marking the end of a bizarre political odyssey, Roland Burris was sworn in as the junior senator from Illinois yesterday, taking his place in a body that not long ago vowed to bar him from its ranks.

Burris took the oath of office in the Senate chamber a little more than a week after Democrats rejected his credentials as a senator because he was appointed by embattled Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich.

In sharp contrast to the scene last week, when a disappointed and defiant Burris held a lonely news conference in the rain outside the Capitol, yesterday he was surrounded by fellow Democratic senators, who shook his hand and congratulated him.

Sen. Richard G. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who previously joined Senate leadership in a bid to block Burris from taking office, escorted the former Illinois comptroller to the front of the chamber. Burris held a large Bible in his hand. Vice President Dick Cheney administered the oath shortly after 2 p.m. Senators erupted in applause, and members of the gallery above cheered.

Durbin then praised Burris in a lengthy speech on the Senate floor.

"Roland Burris is a good man and a dedicated public servant," he said. "I know this was a rocky road."

After the ceremony, Burris emerged from the Senate chamber, surrounded by friends, family, reporters and cameras. When asked how he felt, he said: "Terrific! Terrific!"

The swearing-in ceremony then was repeated for friends and family in the Old Senate Chamber.

The new senator takes his place as the only African-American in the body.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who last month publicly declared that no Blagojevich appointee would be seated to replace President-elect Barack Obama, said in a statement: "There are many paths to the United States Senate. It is fair to say that the path that brought our new colleague from Illinois to us was unique. Whatever complications surrounded his appointment, we made it clear from the beginning - both publicly and privately - that our concern was never with him."

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