Missing 2 Senators, 111th Congress Starts Work On the 111th Congress' opening day Tuesday, Roland Burris showed up to claim Barack Obama's seat as the junior senator from Illinois. As promised, he was rejected. And a Senate seat for Minnesota remains vacant because of an election dispute. But the Senate carried on with its opening ceremonies.
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Missing 2 Senators, 111th Congress Starts Work

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Missing 2 Senators, 111th Congress Starts Work

Missing 2 Senators, 111th Congress Starts Work

Missing 2 Senators, 111th Congress Starts Work

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On the 111th Congress' opening day Tuesday, Roland Burris showed up to claim Barack Obama's seat as the junior senator from Illinois. As promised, he was rejected. And a Senate seat for Minnesota remains vacant because of an election dispute. But the Senate carried on with its opening ceremonies.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Whatever passes the House would also have to pass the U.S. Senate. That's where Republicans have more power. And it is still not entirely clear which senators will be around to vote on the bill. A couple of Democrats who think they should be seated have not been. And one Democrat who took an oath this week is expected to leave within a couple of weeks. NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA: An hour and a half before the Senate convened at high noon, Roland Burris was already stealing the show.

(Soundbite from U.S. Senate)

Unidentified Man: Open up the hall, please.

WELNA: The man Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich appointed last week to fill the Senate seat of President-elect Obama swept into the Capitol, escorted by the Senate sergeant-at-arms. They went up to the secretary of the Senate's office and 20 minutes later, Burris was back outside the Capitol under a steady, cold rain. He told reporters his bid to be seated as the junior senator from Illinois had been rejected.

Mr. ROLAND BURRIS (Democrat, Illinois; Former Illinois Attorney General): I presented my credentials to the secretary of the Senate, and advised that my credentials were not in order and I would not be accepted, and I will not be seated, and I will not be permitted on the floor.

WELNA: The certificate of appointment Burris presented lacked two crucial items: a signature from Illinois' secretary of state, and the seal of the state of Illinois. Burris is suing to get that missing signature, which the secretary of state withheld because of Blagojevich's arrest last month on corruption charges. Speaking later on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid sounded conciliatory as he addressed the Burris imbroglio.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): Mr. Burris takes possession of valid credentials, the Senate will proceed in a manner that is respectful to Mr. Burris while ensuring that there's no cloud of doubt over the appointment to fill this seat.

WELNA: One leading Senate Democrat, California's Dianne Feinstein, broke ranks with her colleagues and issued a statement demanding that Burris be sworn in and seated, saying his appointment by Blagojevich had been legal. Another Democrat left waiting in the wings is Minnesota's Al Franken. A Minnesota board certified Monday that Franken got 225 more votes than GOP incumbent Norm Coleman. Still, because Franken has not yet been given a certificate of election, he was not sworn in. Majority Leader Reid yesterday urged Coleman to concede.

Senator REID: I hope that former Senator Coleman and all of our Republican colleagues will choose to respect the will of the people of Minnesota. They've chosen a new senator, Al Franken, and his term must begin, and will begin soon.

WELNA: But Mitch McConnell, the leader of Senate Republicans, warned against a rush to fill the seat.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): The only people who have pronounced the Minnesota Senate race over are Washington Democrats, and the candidate who is the current custodian of the most votes. The people of Minnesota certainly don't believe that the Minnesota Senate race is over.

WELNA: One Minnesotan, in particular, doesn't think that race is over. Now former Senator Coleman announced in St. Paul yesterday that he'll challenge the recount results in court.

Senator NORM COLEMAN (Republican, Minnesota): This is not just about me. The eyes of the nation are on the state that we love, and we need to show them that Minnesota has done everything we can to make sure that we protect every voter's right.

WELNA: Meanwhile, Vice President Cheney was in the Senate chamber yesterday swearing in senators, including Vice President-elect Joe Biden.

Vice President DICK CHENEY: Please raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States...

WELNA: Biden says he plans to hold onto his Senate seat until possibly late next week.

Vice President-elect JOE BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): This will be the shortest Senate term anyone ever had.

WELNA: The vice president-elect looked uncertain, though, when asked if he'll be casting any significant votes before leaving.

Vice President-elect BIDEN: With the grace of God, the goodwill of neighbors and a lot of luck, we might be able to cast a significant vote. But I don't think it's going to get done.

WELNA: Not in the Senate, still trying to settle who'll be seated. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

INSKEEP: And just to let you know, President-elect Obama is going to take questions on the economy and the appointment of Roland Burris as a senator from the state of Illinois. He'll be talking at a news conference this morning, and you can hear it live at npr.org.

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Election Disputes, Stimulus Bill Await New Congress

The Democratic-controlled 111th Congress convened Tuesday amid disputes over two Senate seats and increased pressure to pass an economic stimulus package.

As new lawmakers were sworn in, Minnesota and Illinois Senate seats remained vacant because of continued disputes. The secretary of the Senate on Tuesday blocked former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris from taking the state's vacant Senate seat, saying Burris' credentials were not in order.

Senate leaders had said they would not seat Burris, who was appointed by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill President-elect Barack Obama's vacant seat. Blagojevich has been charged with public corruption.

At a brief news conference, Burris said he was not certain how he would proceed.

"I am not seeking any kind of confrontation. I will now consult my attorney about what my next step will be," Burris said.

Also in dispute is a Senate seat from Minnesota. The state's canvassing board certified Monday that Democrat Al Franken beat GOP incumbent Norm Coleman by 225 votes, but a legal challenge is nearly certain.

Minnesota law prohibits final certification of a winner until a legal challenge is resolved, and Senate Republicans have indicated they would filibuster if necessary to block Franken from taking the oath of office.

Aside from the Senate battles, the president-elect's stimulus proposals await action. In meetings Monday, Obama urged congressional leaders to prepare legislation that would be ready for his signature soon after he is sworn in Jan. 20.

"We are in a very difficult spot," he said Monday. "The situation is getting worse."

Obama is supporting tax cuts of up to $300 billion; the overall package could increase government spending by as much as $800 billion.

Despite the size of the package, Obama promised Tuesday to make long-term efforts to rein in the ballooning federal budget deficit, even as he called for new government spending.

"The reason I raise this is that we're going to have to stop talking about budget reform — we're going to have to fully embrace it. It's an absolute necessity," Obama said.

Obama promised to make tough choices on future spending to address what he called the deficit of dollars and the deficit of trust.

He said the money in the economic stimulus package would be carefully monitored and would not include lawmakers' pet projects.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey echoed those sentiments Tuesday, saying he would not bring legislation to the House floor if it is filled with earmarks.

"There are going to be no earmarks in this package," Obey said in an interview with NPR. "I can't control what happens in any other body, but I can certainly refuse to bring a bill to the floor if it has earmarks, and that's what I will do."

Obama's plan includes tax cuts of up to $300 billion and is expected to cost about $775 billion over two years. The president-elect hopes the combination of tax cuts and new spending on infrastructure projects will help the recession from deepening.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell indicated there could be clashes over Obama's economic plan.

"We should encourage, not discourage, questions about this bill in a reckless rush to meet an arbitrary deadline," McConnell said in a prepared statement.

From NPR and wire reports