Supporters Rally Around Burris For U.S. Senate
ARI SHAPIRO, host:
Then there's the man Mr. Obama would rather not have in the Senate. At least not this way. Roland Burris has been chosen to fill a vacant seat. He got a big welcome last night in a Southside Chicago church.
Unidentified Man: Chicago, Illinois, the United States of America, Mr. Roland Burris!
SHAPIRO: NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
(Soundbite of church choir singing "It's Not Over")
CHERYL CORLEY: As a choir sang "It's Not Over," Roland Burris sat on a stage flanked by three pews filled with ministers. Several hundred people, including city and state legislators, had come to offer spiritual and political support.
Senate Democrats have said they won't accept anyone who was appointed by Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich, who faces federal corruption charges, and is accused of trying to sell the Senate seat. Burris told the crowd he's been legally appointed, and he'll show up at Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony.
(Soundbite of speech)
Mr. ROLAND BURRIS (Former Attorney General, Illinois): I am ready to serve, friends. I am ready to serve.
CORLEY: Some supporters say an African-American should finish the Senate term of President-elect Barack Obama. Burris would be the only black senator. He says if he's turned away Tuesday, he won't make a fuss.
Mr. BURRIS: I just hope that they follow the law.
CORLEY: Burris says he will take legal action if needed. He's scheduled to meet with Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.
SHAPIRO: Let's get some analysis now from NPR's Cokie Roberts. Morning, Cokie.
COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So as we just heard, Roland Burris plans to be in Washington tomorrow when the new senators are sworn in. How much of a problem is this for the Obama team?
ROBERTS: Well, look. The problem is the Senate should be focusing on its meetings with Obama, which are scheduled for today, and on the economic situation, which continues to get worse. And it has to be worrying about this, and that's a problem. The symbolism is also horrible. Blocking an African-American, basically, at the Senate door.
Senator Reid, the Democratic leader, says he'll meet with him. Maybe there can be a compromise. Meanwhile, the Illinois legislature is meeting this week to move on to impeaching Governor Blagojevich. So you know, this could be settled pretty quickly. It basically falls into the category of who needs it when there are many more important things to worry about?
SHAPIRO: And then what about Governor Richardson's withdrawal of his nomination as commerce secretary? Does that affect what, until now, has been a mostly smooth transition?
ROBERTS: A remarkably smooth transition. That's also a who-needs-it question. And I think there's some irritation in the Obama camp with Governor Richardson. Some sense that he was pushed, he didn't just move by himself. What's surprising is that with a transition team that was asking questions about embarrassing emails and such things, that they missed a grand jury investigation.
ROBERTS: But I think that Richardson - that this, again, will be a blip. That, you know, that this didn't get to the confirmation hearings stage, another person will be named, and on we'll go.