(photo by Lynn Sweet)
WASHINGTON -- Capping a busy Monday -- sending daughters to a new school, meeting with congressional leaders and his economic team, President-elect Barack Obama delighted some 500 supporters of Sen. Dick Durbin by dropping by a party for him -- and new Democratic senators -- at Bobby Van's Steak house.
I don't want to leave you in suspense. Roland Burris was not at this affair for senators-elect. Turned out he was doing press interviews instead.
The purpose of the gathering was to celebrate the swearing-in of the Democratic senators-elect today. Burris, who has had no use for the suffix for those not yet sworn in to office -- arrived here from Chicago on Monday, hoping to be sworn in today. He won't. More about that later.
"It's got to be a great thrill for all these Illinoisans who can't come to the inauguration to have a chance to have their picture taken and shake hands with the president- elect prior to Jan. 20. It shows Obama not only loves Durbin, he loves Illinoisans," said Ray LaHood, the Peoria Republican who just wrapped up a career in the House of Representatives only to find himself tapped by Obama to be his transportation secretary.
Obama plunged into the crowd when he arrived at 7:40 p.m., for lots of handshaking and hugs, leaving to applause at 8:07 p.m., heading back to the Hays Adam, the hotel where the Obama family is staying.
Durbin, welcoming his guests, reeled off the names of the new senators. He did not mention Burris because Burris is not a senator-elect. After a pause, someone in the back yelled out "Roland Burris" . . . as a punchline.
Burris still has hurdles to clear, and the path ahead is not clear, either for Burris or the Senate Democratic leaders -- Durbin is one of them -- who don't want to seat Burris because he was appointed by the tainted Gov. Blagojevich. Democrats are also concerned that Burris would not be able to win the seat on his own in an election.
No one I talked to in the crowd of Illinoisans -- a cross section of the state, Democratic activists, the donor community, a few people who worked for Burris, a former comptroller and attorney general -- seemed excited about his being the potential new junior senator from Illinois. It's dawning on people, however, that he may well secure the appointment.
Burris plans to appear at the Capitol this morning. As of last night, he had no appointment to get into the building; but I guess as a courtesy he will get in, since no one wants a fuss. Perhaps he'll drop by a reception Durbin is throwing to mark his being sworn in to a third term. Burris has been invited.