Roland Burris of Illinois takes seat in U.S. Senate

| 1/15/2009

Roland Burris became the newest member of the U.S. Senate Thursday, Jan. 15.

The Illinois Democrat was sworn in by Vice President Dick Cheney at a Capitol Hill ceremony. Senate members who previously could be described as “frosty” in their attitude toward Burris joining the Senate ranks responded with applause, The Associated Press reported.

On Jan. 6, Burris, a former Democratic attorney general in Illinois, traveled to Washington, DC, in hopes of being seated in the U.S. Senate. He was denied entry when the chamber’s secretary rejected his credentials for the seat.

Burris was pegged for the seat by embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The governor has been impeached by the Illinois House because of allegations that he abused his powers.

The tide turned for Burris’ appointment to the U.S. Senate when Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White signed a document Friday, Jan. 9, certifying that Burris is the governor’s choice to fill the vacant Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama.

News sources reported that later Friday, both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin issued a statement that said the credentials presented on behalf of Burris “now satisfy Senate Rules and validate his appointment to the vacant Illinois Senate seat.”

They also advised that Burris provided sworn testimony before the Illinois House Committee on Impeachment about the circumstances of his appointment.

Burris filed an affidavit with the special panel that said he was approached by one of the governor’s lawyers late this past month about taking the Senate seat. Burris accepted two days later in a phone conversation with the governor.

While Burris takes his seat in the U.S. Senate, Blagojevich awaits a trial in the Illinois Senate that is expected to start within the next week, with senators acting as jurors.

The beleaguered governor spoke to the media hours after his impeachment and reiterated that he will continue to fight the charges. “I’m confident that at the end of the day I’ll be properly exonerated,” Blagojevich said.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor