WASHINGTON -- Thursday morning, Sen. Roland Burris was in "Senate school," learning, with other new senators huddled around the podium in the Senate chamber, how the floor works.
There are a few ways to be recognized -- a senator can stand or call an audible. Burris and the other freshmen got pointers on how to wield the gavel when presiding and where the switches are for the microphones.
Burris -- appointed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and seated after an uproar because Senate Democratic leaders wanted nothing to do with the tainted Blagojevich -- was sworn in Jan. 15 and is still on a steep learning and organization curve.
He is getting advice from Peter Rouse, who as Barack Obama's Senate chief of staff put in place the staff and the plan that led Obama to the White House. Rouse now is a top Obama adviser.
Burris is working out of temporary offices in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. His wife found him an apartment a few days ago. He is putting together a political operation looking at 2010 and planning fund-raisers. He will make his first Downstate Illinois swing next month.
His biggest boost was landing an experienced Senate hand, Darrel Thompson, as an interim chief of staff. Thompson was detailed, in a temporary move, to the Burris operation from the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), where he is a senior adviser. In 2004, Thompson was in Chicago as chief of staff for Obama's U.S. Senate campaign.
"As the leader of the U.S. Senate, I will do all that I can to support the success of Sen. Burris, and that begins with detailing one of my most respected senior staff members," Reid said in a statement. "Darrel's institutional knowledge combined with his strong relationship with members and staffs in both the Senate and House will undoubtedly serve Sen. Burris well."
"We have spent the last two weeks evaluating chief of staff candidates and are looking forward to having someone on our team with Darrel's Illinois experience and knowledge and passion for helping solve the important issues facing our state and nation," Burris said in a statement.
Burris' week consisted of committee meetings, policy lunches with other senators and meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus.