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Illinois senator has steep learning curve

Illinois senator has steep learning curve

Roland Burris is getting a warmer reception in the U.S. Senate than he received last week when he was turned out in the chilly rain. But the honeymoon in his new place of work could be very short, and not all that sweet.
Senate Democrats still have a bitter aftertaste from being shamed into seating Burris by impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is accused of trying to sell the seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
Still, they're giving Burris a polite reception to the famously fussy chamber, insisting that their initial resistance was never about Burris personally.
Burris will be sworn in Thursday by Vice President Dick Cheney and seated without objection or a vote initially promised by Majority Leader Harry Reid. Then the senior senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, is throwing a reception in Burris' honor.
Reality sets in after that. Burris will join the lowest of the lowly freshmen in the Senate hierarchy, forced on _ rather than elected to _ a chamber that prides itself on deliberation and independence.
If Burris expects to win the seat outright in two years, he'll need to quickly win over leaders of his party whose blessing can help raise campaign cash. That's a tall order considering the former state attorney general has little if any legislative experience. And some Senate Democrats are still smarting over being shamed into seating him.
Advice for their new colleague from rank-and-file Democrats: Jump in, work hard, take distinct steps toward building goodwill. Burris' first test will come with Obama's this week, when Congress decides whether to give the new president access to the second half of an unpopular $700 billion rescue for the ailing economy.
The circumstances surrounding Burris' debut as a senator, and the abbreviated time he has to win support, make his challenge stiffer than most.
"I think it sets the bar a little higher than otherwise might be," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg. "Look, he's going to be here for a limited term so he's going to have catch on quickly. And we'll try to help him along the way."
Blagojevich's involvement in Burris' appointment concerned senators, but "no one's ever had anything against Sen. Burris," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
"Like any other senator, he'll have to learn the ropes and not get lost getting to committee hearings, like I have," Klobuchar, said. "I think he'll come in with people open to meeting with him and getting to know him. I think it will be just fine."
But fine enough to give Burris the cash and other support he'll need to win the seat in next year's election? That's up to Burris and how quickly he can learn the Senate's arcane traditions and the properties of more ephemeral forces _ like relationships _ that take years to understand, let alone master.
Three knowledgable Democrats who demanded anonymity said that Burris could help build goodwill by distancing himself, early and strongly, from Blagojevich. Extra points, they said, for calling on the governor to resign. Burris so far has refused to do that.
The Illinois governor is accused of trying to sell Obama's Senate seat, to which he eventually appointed Burris.
Burris has testified under oath that he promised nothing in return for the appointment and has no connection to the corruption charges facing his patron. Blagojevich denies those charges.
Another idea: call on other black lawmakers to back off their criticism of Democratic leaders who at first shunned Burris on the grounds that anyone appointed by Blagojevich would be stripped of credibility.
A spokesman for Burris did not respond to a request for comment.
For now, Burris is just learning the basics of the Senate, where he'll be given temporary offices in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, an aide said. He'll have a powerful colleague in Illinois' other senator, Dick Durbin, who is the No. 2 official in the chamber and is throwing the reception Thursday that'll follow Burris' swearing-in.
The rest, Senate Democrats say, is up to Burris.


Updated : 2021-02-28 00:06 GMT+08:00