- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009

A who’s who of senators and House members flocked to Sen. Roland Burris on the U.S. Senate floor after his swearing-in Thursday as the chamber’s newest member, ending an embarrassing episode for Democrats who vowed to block his appointment.

“I’m feeling terrifically vindicated,” Mr. Burris, who was barred from the swearing-in ceremony last week over objections that his appointment was made by scandal-plagued Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, said later outside the chamber.

Mr. Burris’ delayed but warm embrace as he took the seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama followed farewell addresses by two iconic senators, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who go on to top jobs in the Obama administration.

On the Senate floor, a beaming Mr. Burris found himself wrapped in hugs by fellow Democrats who once locked him out, including the other Illinois senator, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Both leaders had said anyone tapped by Mr. Blagojevich would be tainted by his arrest in a federal corruption probe for trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by Mr. Obama.

They backed down after Mr. Burris, 71, won a court decision supporting his appointment and amid mounting pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus for Mr. Burris to replace Mr. Obama as the nation’s only black U.S. senator.

“The Senate is much more diverse now than it was yesterday,” said Rep. Bobby L. Rush, Illinois Democrat, who fought to seat Mr. Burris and last week called the leadership’s actions “racist.”

By agreeing to seat Mr. Burris, a move compelled by law, the leadership also silenced an interparty quarrel that had become a drag on the ambitious agenda of Capitol Hill Democrats and the incoming Obama administration.

“It is fair to say his path to the Senate was unique, and that’s an understatement,” Mr. Reid said in a floor speech after Thursday’s ceremony. “But our concern was never with Mr. Burris personally.”

Mr. Durbin said the Blagojevich taint did not extend to Mr. Burris, a former Illinois attorney general and longtime political player in the state.

“There was no negative statements about Roland Burris,” Mr. Durbin told reporters Thursday. “I’m confident he will be a valuable member of the Senate and he will establish his own reputation.”

In bidding the Senate farewell, Mr. Biden offered passion and Mrs. Clinton offered mostly prose.

His face growing red and his voice catching at times, the vice president-elect told stories, recalled old colleagues and talked of his deep love for the Senate during his 36 years in the chamber.

His longtime aide and designated replacement, Edward Kaufman, sat in the visitors gallery above the floor as the Delaware Democrat spoke.

Mrs. Clinton, whose nomination as secretary of state was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations earlier in the day, was considerably less emotional, thanking her New York constituents and citing a number of achievements big and small during her tenure, including securing funds to renovate a theater in Syracuse and “retrofitting state-owned trucks and school buses to employ clean diesel technology.”

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