Burris, the junior senator from Illinois, is trim and fit for a man of seventy-one, with a full head of hair barely flecked with gray. He beckoned a young aide to keep up as he bounded toward an elevator reserved for senators. There, Burris was joined by two Democratic colleagues, first Maria Cantwell, of Washington state, then Blanche Lincoln, of Arkansas. Burris had been a senator for less than two months—he was appointed by Rod Blagojevich, then the governor of Illinois, on December 30th, to fill the unexpired term of Barack Obama—and he had yet to learn the names of all of his colleagues. “Hello, Senator!” Burris said cheerfully to each woman. They nodded, smiled back at him, and, looking slightly embarrassed, stared down at the floor.
In the basement of the building, Burris raced to catch the subway to the Capitol, and when he arrived he met Ron Wyden, of Oregon, and Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, who, having already voted, were heading in the opposite direction. “Senators!” Burris said, and the two men made the same gestures as the pair in the elevator had: a friendly nod followed by an averted gaze.