Video: Burris: ‘Never any doubt’ over seat

updated 1/16/2009 9:22:43 AM ET 2009-01-16T14:22:43

Roland Burris took his place as Barack Obama's successor in the U.S. Senate on Thursday, ending a standoff that embarrassed the president-elect and fellow Democrats who initially resisted the appointment by scandal-scarred Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"I do," Burris said with a grin as Vice President Dick Cheney administered the oath of office to the former Illinois attorney general who takes Obama's place as the Senate's only black member.

More than a week after his colleagues were sworn in, Burris was seated without objection or a roll call vote, even though Majority Leader Harry Reid had said senators would have their voices heard on whether to accept his appointment.

Illinois congressional delegation members joined Democratic and Republican senators in giving Burris a congratulatory standing ovation, handshakes and hugs on the Senate floor.

Both Reid and Illinois' senior senator, Dick Durbin, smiled broadly and praised Burris in speeches, insisting anew that their previous resistance wasn't about Burris personally but rather about how he was appointed.

"To Senator Burris, on behalf of all senators — Democrats and Republicans — we welcome you as a colleague and as a friend," Reid said.

Durbin also offered his congratulations before throwing a reception in his new colleague's honor, saying: "I know this was a rocky road to this great day in his life but a road well traveled."

It was a warm welcome that contrasted sharply with last week's treatment, when Burris showed up on Capitol Hill to be sworn in with his colleagues, only to be turned away into the cold and rain by Senate Democratic leaders who argued that Burris' appointment wasn't valid under Senate rules.

But as the soon-to-be-impeached Blagojevich watched from afar, Burris dug in and the two Senate Democratic leaders ultimately relented under pressure from Obama and rank-and-file Democrats who worried that the episode was distracting from more important matters and putting the party — and the president-elect — in a bad light.

No sooner was Burris sworn on Thursday than he was expected to cast his first vote, on whether to give Obama access to the second half of the $700 billion financial bailout.

The vote was expected to be close; of the 99 senators, Obama needs a majority to get the money. There is one Senate vacancy because the election in Minnesota between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken is unresolved.

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With Burris, Democrats now control the Senate 58 to 41.

Obama's election created a flurry of new faces in the Senate, as he chose senators to fill key posts in his administration.

Earlier Thursday, Sen. Joe Biden, the incoming vice president, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, nominated to be the next secretary of state, bid goodbye to the Senate. Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado also was departing to become Interior Secretary.

Longtime Biden confidant Edward "Ted" Kaufman will replace him, while Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet will succeed Salazar. New York Gov. David Paterson has yet to appoint Clinton's successor, though his deliberations have been closely watched because Caroline Kennedy, the scion of a political dynasty, wants the job.

Obama resigned the Senate days after the November election.

A few weeks later, Blagojevich — who had the power to appoint Obama's successor — was arrested on charges that included trying to trade access to Obama's Senate seat for personal gain.

Late last month, Blagojevich shocked Obama's team and Democrats in Washington when he appointed Burris to the seat. This month, Blagojevich became the first Illinois governor to be impeached.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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