Transcript Courtesy Federal News Service
STATEMENT BY ROLAND BURRIS (D), TO BE SEATED AS JUNIOR SENATOR OF ILLINOIS
5:36 P.M. EST, MONDAY, JANUARY 12, 2008
MR. BURRIS: I'm truly humbled and honored to learn that later this week I will officially be sworn into the United States Senate as the Illinois junior senator.
I'm thankful for the opportunity to serve and I ask for your support and prayers, so that I may work with you, my senator -- my Senate colleagues and our new president to succeed at the challenges which face our state and our country.
I would like to publicly thank Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and my long-time friend and Illinois' senior senator, Dick 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. It will be my honor to both serve with them and to learn from them.
Secretary of State Jesse White, whom I've known for more than 30 years, is also owed a debt of gratitude. He also happen to be someone whose autograph I cherish.
Some have criticized Jesse, and I think somewhat unfairly. He stood for what he believed was right, and in our state's best interest. His actions only reinforced what I have always known him to be, an honorable man.
I'd like to thank all of my staff and volunteers for all of their efforts in helping me get to this point. And most of all, I would like to thank the community for their support.
And now let me take a moment to speak to the people of Illinois.
Our state finds itself in the midst of an unfortunate time. We are disappointed and disheartened that Illinois has become the national focus of alleged scandals and improprieties that were not of our making, especially during a time when we should have -- be rejoicing in the presidential inauguration of our own Barack Obama.
I recognize that my appointment triggered a challenging time for many. Reasonable people can and will arrive at different decisions that although -- were in the best interests of our state. They -- they should not be faulted for doing their best to serve our state in the best way they thought possible.
The single most important reason why I fought, to defend this appointment, was because I believed Illinois people didn't deserve to unfairly be punished again, by delaying their right to have full representation and equal voting rights at such a crucial time for our state and our nation. My motivation is to serve, was pure and had nothing to do with the scandal that preceded my appointment.
Now, most of you all have heard me repeatedly state that I am already the junior senator-designate from the great State of Illinois. I believe that had I relinquished that title, after being legally appointed, I would have also signaled that our state had surrendered its own right to send, to Congress, a senator of our own choosing, in accordance with our laws, as protected by the United States Constitution.
My passion truly is to serve you. I look forward to providing that, every chance that I get. I cannot say enough how humbled and honored I am to be afforded this opportunity to serve.
And finally if you are among the many in Illinois, who are disheartened by the cloud that hangs overhead and darkens our state's image, I ask that you join me in remembering the old saying: "It's always the darkest before the dawn."
I believe that dawn is near and brighter days are ahead for Illinois, and I'm looking forward to serving in the United States Senate.
God bless you, and thank you all very much for giving me that chance. Thank you.
Yes, Mary Ann (sp).
Q Mr. Burris, you did not bring up the governor. What about the governor? Do you thank him as well?
And today Republican leaders have said the Democrats chose to trust a madman over the people of Illinois. What's your reaction to that?
MR. BURRIS: No, there's no reaction to that. The governor carried out his constitutional duties. He had no choice but to carry out the duties that were -- that were -- that he took an oath to carry out when he was sworn in for governor. That's my response.
Q Mr. Burris --
MR. BURRIS: Yes.
Q -- every senator has kind of a set of pet issues, things that -- issues that he wants to bring forward and to concentrate on and work for. Can you give us a -- some idea of the issues that you want to concentrate on during this next two years?
MR. BURRIS: Well, I certainly will, but right now I'm going to go to the Senate, certainly learn the procedures and operations, and be there to help pass the stimulus package that they'll be working on that's on the plate right now.
But I will certainly have my pet issues that I will come up with.
Q How do you explain the turnaround in six days?
MR. BURRIS: Well, I think that after all the procedures were -- excuse me -- were brought together, then people recognized that we should get -- move forward and get this action behind us.
Q Mr. Burris, did you have to make any deal not to run in 2010?
MR. BURRIS: The only request that was made of me from Senator Reid and Senator Durbin was that I make my testimony before the Illinois house impeachment committee and secondly that I would clear up the signature from the secretary of state's office and that was it.
Q Senator, your lawyers indicated Friday that you had formed a campaign committee. Might you run in 2010?
MR. BURRIS: Well, we had to form a fund-raising committee because of the, you know, needed expenses that we'll have. And we're also forming a legal -- legal defense fund committee, too.
Q Mr. Burris, you had a long, distinguished career in Illinois -- comptroller, various statewide offices -- (off mike) -- senator, but do you worry that by taking this appointment that comes from a man who -- under criminal charges, who's about to be impeached -- (off mike) -- possibly in the Senate, and you're taking a seat that -- (off mike). Do you think that's going to diminish your legacy rather than improve it?
MR. BURRIS: I'm taking this seat because of my love and commitment to the people of Illinois. I served them 20 years, and even out of office I was still serving the people of Illinois.
Now I got a chance to serve them again. And I certainly relish that opportunity to do what my lifelong dream is -- is to be a public servant.
Q But do you feel there will always be an asterisk next to your appointment?
MR. BURRIS: I don't think -- my appointment was legal. I don't fear anything. The appointment was legal, and that's what's now been confirmed.
Q Mr. Burris?
MR. BURRIS: Oh, yes, please.
Q As you know, and along the same lines, a lot of just regular people view your appointment as tainted. How do you plan to win skeptics over, over the next --
MR. BURRIS: I wish you all could see our telephone calls. I wish you all could see what has come into our home, into our offices. From all over the country, people are congratulating us.
And certainly there are individuals who might have some problems with that. But I take the positive, and I'm very uplifted by all of those wonderful things that we've -- that my family and other friends have heard across America. So there's no such thing as taint. There's nothing in the statute about taint. And that is -- that is a -- more of a -- of an -- political-type emotional-stirring activity that's been drawn up by someone. But there's nowhere in the statute that the governor with legal authority -- made an appointment under his constitutional duty.
Q But following up --
Q But let's clarify --
Q Following up, how do you -- how do you plan, though, to win over those skeptics who may be skeptical of this appointment? How -- what do you plan to do --
MR. BURRIS: My actions will speak louder than my words.
Q But let's clarify the 2010.
Obviously the election's coming around the corner pretty quickly. You will need, though, to start campaigning for that office shortly after you take it. Will you run in 2010?
MR. BURRIS: Let me get there and get my Senate legs under me, and we'll make that decision at the proper time.
Q When will you be sworn in?
MR. BURRIS: It's either -- (chuckles) -- it's either Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. I'm trying to get my family together. You know, this is -- came this afternoon at 2:00. I have -- you know, my children work, and you know, I have two grandchildren, and we're trying to put all that together. We're trying (fit ?) that with the schedule of Vice President Cheney. And hopefully he can adjust his schedule, because the Inauguration time -- he's transitioning. So you know, we're -- it's in the air right now.
Q Two weeks ago, you weren't even planning on going to the Inaugural.
MR. BURRIS: I was waiting on my tickets from Obama. (Chuckles.)
Q And now what? How -- are people calling you?
Q What about those Inaugural tickets?
MR. BURRIS: (Chuckles.)
Q Are you going to get some tickets to the Inauguration? And were you planning --
MR. BURRIS: (Chuckles.) Now do you want me to state that publicly? (Laughs.)
Q (Off mike.)
MR. BURRIS: Because I do not know at this point what the situation is with the tickets.
Q (Off mike) -- looking for some?
MR. BURRIS: Yes.
Q Mr. Burris, last week your lawyers kind of presented the case, and they said they had gotten Jesse White's signature. Granted, Jesse White's signature is on the certification paper, but that wasn't the original paper that the Senate was looking to have signed. Do you kind of -- do you agree with their assessment of that? And can you explain that? Because it seems like the argument they were making was, you know, at best disingenuous and, you know, at worst kind of lying, to say to people, "Hey, well, we've got Jesse White's signature," because it really wasn't on the right form that the Senate was really looking for.
MR. BURRIS: No, what generally happens is that you -- governor will sign an appointment letter, and he will send it over to the secretary of state.
And his signature and seal would go on that letter. And that's what was the normal course of business.
But when Secretary White refused to sign, then they sent us over a registration to show that this appointment had been registered. And that was signed by his lawyer.
Well, I think, that was taken out to the Senate, to the secretary of the United States Senate. And that was rejected by the secretary of the United States Senate. You need a seal and a signature of the secretary of State.
So when the Supreme Court of Illinois then ruled that the secretary of State should issue a certified letter, then that has to take his signature and the seal. So therefore all they did was clamp those two pieces of paper together. And the Senate had what they needed.
Q Can you give us some sense of how frustrating these past few days have been, for you, after getting the appointment, going through all this wrangling?
MR. BURRIS: I look upon that as a learning experience and a part of life. And I cherish that type of experience, because that has made Roland Burris tougher. That made me be able to appreciate what the people of Illinois really want in their leadership.
So I have no regrets for what I went through. It has made me more humble and made me to be prepared to even work harder to serve the people of my state.
Q Congressman Bobby Rush and others have been on a campaign, saying that this seat needs to be filled by an African-American. You are an African-American. How do you plan to distinguish yourself in the Senate as an African-American? Or do you believe that it's even important for you to?
MR. BURRIS: Well, Charles, I plan to distinguish myself in the Senate the same way I did as attorney general and as state comptroller and as the vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, as the president of the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers, as the president of the National Association of State Comptrollers, as an exchange student to the University of Hamburg, where I studied international law in the German language. That's how I plan to handle that situation.
Q Thank you.
MR. BURRIS: Thank you very much.