Washington’s senior U.S. Senator Patty Murray made history today as the first woman ever to become President Pro Tempore in the United States Senate, succeeding a series of ninety-one men in the constitutionally-defined role.
With the office of Speaker of the House currently vacant, Murray is second in line to the presidency, after Vice President Kamala Harris.
“I hope that when young women now see me in this position they see they can accomplish anything they set their mind to,” said Murray in subsequent remarks.
“I hope they see that they not only belong in Congress — but that their voices are needed here in Congress. We need their perspectives and their insight — and we need a Congress that looks like America.”
“The year that I was first elected to the Senate, there were three other women elected to the Senate with me, and twenty-four in the House,” she recollected.
“And that was enough for them to call it the ‘year of the woman.’ ”
“Well, today, we have more women serving in the Senate than when I first started — but you know what: we need more. We need more women in leadership roles, and more women at the decision making table.”
“But today really is a sign of the progress I have fought for, for a very long time. And I hope we continue to build on that progress.”
“We need to make every year the ‘year of the women.’ I do care deeply about the work we do here in Congress, and how that work can help friends and neighbors that I grew up with and the constituents that I represent. I really look forward to the opportunity to serve our country as President Pro Tem.”
Watch the swearing-in:
Murray was accompanied to the dais by her predecessor Patrick Leahy of Vermont, where she took the oath in front of her colleagues. It was administered by Vice President Kamala Harris. The first woman to be Vice President got to swear in the first woman Senate President Pro Tempore… now that’s cool!
If you’re not familiar with the position of President Pro Tem (pro tempore is Latin for the time being), here’s some useful background from Wikipedia:
The president pro tempore of the United States Senate (often shortened to president pro tem) is the second-highest-ranking official of the United States Senate, after the vice president. According to Article One, Section Three of the United States Constitution, the vice president of the United States is the president of the Senate (despite not being a senator), and the Senate must choose a president pro tempore to act in the vice president’s absence.
The president pro tempore is elected by the Senate as a whole, usually by a resolution which is adopted by unanimous consent without a formal vote. The Constitution does not specify who can serve in this position, but the Senate has always elected one of its current members. Unlike the vice president, the president pro tempore cannot cast a tie-breaking vote when the Senate is equally divided. The president pro tempore has enjoyed many privileges and some limited powers.
During the vice president’s absence, the president pro tempore is empowered to preside over Senate sessions. Except when necessary or to highlight important votes, the vice president and the president pro tempore rarely preside; instead, the duty of presiding officer is rotated among junior U.S. senators of the majority party to give them experience in parliamentary procedure.
Unlike the Speaker of the House, the Senate President Pro Tempore is not held by the person considered to be the leader of the Senate’s majority caucus. That’s a different position… the position of Senate Majority Leader. (The House also has a Majority Leader, who is the usually the chief deputy of the Speaker.)
Traditionally, the most senior member of the majority caucus has been elected Senate President Pro Tempore by the body — but not always. Dianne Feinstein of California has more seniority than Murray, but did not want the position. Murray was next in line after Feinstein and accepted the responsibility.
Murray was also sworn in for her sixth term as a senator today, after voters in Washington overwhelmingly backed her reelection campaign. She has now won half a dozen consecutive statewide elections: 1992, 1998, 2004, 2010, 2016, and 2022. In addition to becoming President Pro Tem, Murray is the new chair of the extremely powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, also succeeding Leahy.
Appropriations is one of three U.S. Senate fiscal committees; the others are Finance and Budget. While all three committees have names that sound like they have something to do with money, they have different scopes. Wikipedia:
The Budget Committee should not be confused with the Finance Committee and the Appropriations Committee, both of which have different jurisdictions: The Finance Committee is analogous to the Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives; it has legislative jurisdiction in the areas of taxes, Social Security, Medicare, [and] Medicaid. […] The Appropriations Committee has legislative jurisdiction over appropriations bills, which provide funding for government programs.
While the budget resolution prepared by the Budget Committee sets out a broad blueprint for the Congress with respect to the total levels of revenues and spending for the government as a whole, these other Committees prepare bills for specific tax and spending policies.
Since Appropriations decides what projects get funded, it is a very important and powerful committee. Murray was already a veteran appropriator before this Congress, but now she’s the Chair of the whole operation, just as the legendary Senator Warren (“Maggie”) Magnuson once was decades ago.
Congratulations to Senator Murray on her new responsibilities; the United States will assuredly be well served with her in both of these important roles.