WASHINGTON -- Closing a painful chapter for Senate Democratic leaders, an overjoyed Roland Burris was sworn in to the Senate Thursday by Vice President Dick Cheney.
» Click to enlarge image
Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., accompanied by his wife Berlean takes part in a mock swearing-in ceremony administered by Vice President Dick Cheney on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, after an official swearing-in on the floor of the Senate.
Burris' installation came after he forced Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Dick Durbin, the assistant majority leader, to back down from their vow not to seat anyone appointed by the impeached Gov. Blagojevich.
Shortly after taking the oath of office, Burris -- flanked by Reid and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) -- cast his first vote, to free up another $350 billion to prop up the nation's collapsing financial institutions. Burris' vote was actually needed by President-elect Barack Obama since the roll call was close.
Burris is filling the seat vacated by Obama and becomes, like Obama, the sole African American in the Senate. Illinois -- specifically the South Side of Chicago -- has provided the last three African Americans in the Senate: Burris, Obama and Carol Moseley Braun.
"It's a dream of a lifetime," Burris said at a reception for his family and friends hosted by Durbin, where a stream of senators dropped by to say hello to their new colleague.
Blagojevich tapped Burris for the spot -- spurned by other Democrats who would not take the coveted seat from the tainted governor -- after he was arrested on Dec. 9 for, among other alleged crimes, trying to auction off the seat.
Reid and Durbin cleared the way for Burris to get seated after the issue of race was injected into the controversy and Burris was on the front pages.
Speaking about the episode, Durbin said Thursday it was "terrible. It was awkward, it was painful."
In picking Burris, 71, a former Illinois attorney general and comptroller and now an attorney and state lobbyist, Blagojevich revived the political career of a man known for his enormous ambition and serial failures in bids for senator, governor and Chicago mayor.