NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, November 16th, 2022

Patty Murray set to become the first woman elected U.S. Senate President Pro Tempore

Demo­c­ra­t­ic Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray (D‑Washington) has been tapped to take over for retir­ing col­league Patrick Leahy of Ver­mont as the Unit­ed States Sen­ate’s Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore in the next Con­gress, her office announced today.

The office of Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore is the only posi­tion in the Unit­ed States Sen­ate explic­it­ly men­tioned in the Con­sti­tu­tion of the Unit­ed States.

The rel­e­vant pro­vi­sion of Arti­cle I, Sec­tion 3 says:

The Sen­ate shall chuse their oth­er Offi­cers, and also a Pres­i­dent pro tem­pore, in the Absence of the Vice Pres­i­dent, or when he shall exer­cise the Office of Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States.

Pro tem­pore is Latin, and it means “for the time being.”

When the Vice Pres­i­dent is present, they pre­side over the Sen­ate in their capac­i­ty as Pres­i­dent of the Sen­ate. When they are not, the Sen­ate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore fills their role, although the Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore is not oblig­at­ed to pre­side over every minute of a Sen­ate ses­sion. In fact, it is com­mon for oth­er mem­bers of the major­i­ty par­ty to pre­side. How­ev­er, the Vice Pres­i­dent or Sen­ate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore usu­al­ly pre­sides on spe­cial occa­sions and for his­toric votes.

The Sen­ate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore is also third in the pres­i­den­tial line of suc­ces­sion, as stip­u­lat­ed in 3 USC § 19, the updat­ed Pres­i­den­tial Suc­ces­sion Act 1947, which pro­vides (as per­mit­ted by the Con­sti­tu­tion): “If, at the time when under sub­sec­tion (a) a Speak­er is to begin the dis­charge of the pow­ers and duties of the office of Pres­i­dent, there is no Speak­er, or the Speak­er fails to qual­i­fy as Act­ing Pres­i­dent, then the Pres­i­dent pro tem­pore of the Sen­ate shall, upon his res­ig­na­tion as Pres­i­dent pro tem­pore and as Sen­a­tor, act as President.”

No one iden­ti­fy­ing as female has ever served in the position.

“Since the office was cre­at­ed in 1789, 91 indi­vid­u­als, from 39 of the 50 states, have served as pres­i­dent pro tem­pore of the Sen­ate,” Wikipedia notes.

All have been men.

Mur­ray will make his­to­ry as the first woman Sen­ate Pres­i­dent Pro Tempore.

“I am hon­ored to have earned the con­fi­dence of Leader Schumer and my col­leagues to serve as Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore,” said Mur­ray. “It’s not lost on me the sig­nif­i­cance of what it would mean to be the first woman to serve in this role. I have a great deal of respect for the Sen­ate and the good I am able to accom­plish for fam­i­lies in Wash­ing­ton state as a voice and vote for them.”

“I care deeply about the work we do here in Con­gress and how that work can help the friends and neigh­bors I grew up with and the con­stituents I represent—I look for­ward to the oppor­tu­ni­ty to serve our coun­try in this position.”

The leg­endary U.S. Sen­a­tor War­ren Magn­suon (whose seat is now held by Maria Cantwell, Mur­ray’s seat­mate) is the only oth­er Sen­a­tor from Wash­ing­ton to have held the posi­tion of Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore, dur­ing the late 1970s and ear­ly 1980s. Known fond­ly as “Mag­gie,” Mag­nu­son served for over thir­ty-six years in the Sen­ate, an era stretch­ing from 1944 to 1981. For most of those years, he served with Sen­a­tor Hen­ry M. Jack­son, known fond­ly as “Scoop.”

The pow­er­house duo of Scoop and Mag­gie got a lot done for Wash­ing­ton State and the coun­try. Their suc­ces­sors Mur­ray and Cantwell have like­wise accom­plished a great deal, from high capac­i­ty tran­sit invest­ments and weath­er radar deploy­ment to edu­ca­tion reform and finan­cial reform.

Mur­ray will have near­ly matched Mag­nu­son’s lengthy record of ser­vice at the end of the new term she was just elect­ed to if she serves all six years.

Senior­i­ty mat­ters in the Sen­ate. The posi­tion of Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore has often been held by the most senior mem­ber of the cham­ber’s major­i­ty par­ty. The cur­rent Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore Patrick Leahy of Ver­mont cur­rent­ly has the most senior­i­ty of any sen­a­tor. How­ev­er, as men­tioned, he is retiring.

Cal­i­for­ni­a’s Dianne Fein­stein has more senior­i­ty than Mur­ray and was next in line for the job per tra­di­tion, but Fein­stein is plagued by mem­o­ry issues and has pre­vi­ous­ly said she does­n’t want to serve, prompt­ing Schumer to turn to Mur­ray. The only oth­er sen­a­tors with more senior­i­ty besides Fein­stein are all Repub­li­cans: Chuck Grass­ley, Mitch McConnell, and Richard Shelby.

Mur­ray is expect­ed to remain Assis­tant Leader in the new Con­gress, con­tin­u­ing to serve with Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Chuck Schumer and Major­i­ty Whip Dick Durbin.

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