Reversing course, Senate Democrats grudgingly accepted embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s hand-selected Senate appointee, Roland Burris, as they sought to break an impasse over President-elect Barack Obama’s former seat.
The new Illinois senator is expected to be sworn into office later this week.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois made the announcement in a joint statement Monday, saying Burris "is now the senator-designate from Illinois and, as such, will be accorded all the rights and privileges of a senator-elect."
Burris, in turn, called himself honored and humbled to be the state’s newest senator. "I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve," he said at a news conference in Chicago. "I recognize that my appointment triggered a challenging time for many."
The development prevented the impasse that has plagued Democrats from dragging on into Obama’s inauguration festivities, and it capped a gradual retreat by the Senate’s top Democrats.
They had initially tried to dissuade Blagojevich, who faces criminal charges, from making an appointment and suggested that his pick would not be seated. Last week, Burris’ credentials were rejected 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.
Reid and Durbin said they were satisfied both with the documents and with Burris’ testimony before the Illinois House impeachment panel that he did nothing wrong.
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.