- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Overcoming intense opposition from his own party leaders, former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris on Monday won a battle of wills and is expected to fill the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, and Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, a Democrat from Mr. Burris’ home state of Illinois, conceded defeat in their bid to deny the 71-year-old the seat after his Dec. 30 appointment by scandal-plagued Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich. Mr. Obama, Mr. Reid and Mr. Durbin had all vowed early on to block the appointment.

But after Mr. Burris’ attorneys hand-delivered to the Senate the final documents he needed to confirm his credentials for office Monday, Mr. Reid and Mr. Durbin waved the white flag.

“We have spoken to Mr. Burris to let him know that he is now the senator-designate from Illinois and as such, will be accorded all the rights and privileges of a senator-elect,” the Democratic leaders said in a joint statement.

Mr. Burris, addressing a press conference in Chicago, was magnanimous in victory, saying he bore no ill will to Mr. Reid and Mr. Durbin.

“Never once did I doubt their intentions were motivated by anything other than doing what was right for the people of Illinois and by what they believed had to be done to protect the Senate as an institution,” he said.

He said he accepted the appointment from Mr. Blagojevich because he “believed the Illinois people didn’t deserve to be punished again” by having the Senate seat remain vacant for an extended period of time.

“It’s always darkest before the dawn,” he said. “I believe the dawn is here and brighter days are ahead for the state of Illinois.”

Mr. Reid and Mr. Durbin said that, barring an objection from the chamber’s Republicans, “we expect Senator-designee Burris to be sworn in and formally seated later this week.”

Mr. Obama’s transition team said the president-elect has high regard for Mr. Burris.

“[Mr. Obama] looks forward to working with Senator Burris and the rest of the United States Senate to rebuild our economy and meet the great challenges of our time,” Obama-Biden Transition Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said.

Senate Republicans, who have barely concealed their glee at the circus surrounding Mr. Burris’ nomination, are not expected to protest the appointment. Like Mr. Obama before him, Mr. Burris would be the only black member of the 100-seat Senate.

The decision was also a coup for the embattled Mr. Blagojevich, who was impeached by the Illinois House last week on a 114-1 vote on corruption charges and faces a trial in the state Senate to save his job. Ironically, one of the principal charges in a federal corruption complaint against the Democratic governor is that he tried to use his power to appoint Mr. Obama’s successor to solicit bribes and promises of jobs for himself and his wife.

But Mr. Burris was not implicated in the Senate seat-selling scandal, and the legal case against the governor’s right to make the appointment while he remains in office crumbled quickly. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and outgoing chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, and others on Capitol Hill openly questioned the right of Mr. Reid and the Senate leadership to deny Mr. Burris the seat.

Black politicians in Illinois and on Capitol Hill also rallied to Mr. Burris’ cause, making the standoff a political nightmare for Mr. Obama and Mr. Reid.

The clincher came when the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Blagojevich still had the legal right under state law to name the next senator.

“No further action is required by the secretary of state of any other official to make the governor’s appointment of Roland Burris to the United States Senate valid under Illinois law,” the court said in its opinion.

Although the appointment gives Mr. Reid another Democratic vote, Republicans also see an unexpected political opportunity in the choice. Two years are remaining in the Senate term for Mr. Burris’ seat, and he has declined to say whether he will run for a full term of his own.

Illinois Republicans, who pressed unsuccessfully for a statewide special election to replace Mr. Obama, said the unseemly wrangling over the Senate seat confirmed their argument about the need for change in the state.

“By failing to strip Rod Blagojevich of his Senate appointment power, Democrats chose to trust a madman over the people of Illinois,” said Illinois Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna.

The first black elected statewide official in Illinois history, Mr. Burris had largely faded from the scene after losing three Democratic primaries for governor - including a 2002 contest with Mr. Blagojevich - and a 1995 race for mayor of Chicago.

The decision to accept Mr. Burris represents a setback for Mr. Reid in particular. While not attacking Mr. Burris, Mr. Reid said last month that “anyone appointed by Governor Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic caucus.”

The decision to seat Mr. Burris leaves just one Senate vacancy. In Minnesota, Democratic challenger Al Franken clings to a tiny lead in a lengthy recount battle with incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican.

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