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.

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2023

Senator Patty Murray sworn in as the first woman U.S. Senate President Pro Tempore

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.

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