President pro tempore of the United States Senate

President pro tempore of the United States Senate
President pro tempore of
the United States Senate
Seal of the President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate.svg
Daniel Inouye

since June 28, 2010
Style The Honorable
Mr. President
(When presiding over the Senate)
Appointer Elected by the U.S. Senate
Inaugural holder John Langdon
April 6, 1789
Formation U.S. Constitution
March 4, 1789
Succession Third
United States

This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
the United States

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The President pro tempore (play /ˌpr ˈtɛmpər/;[1][2] or /ˌpr ˈtɛmpər/;[2][3] also President pro tem) is the second-highest-ranking official of the United States Senate. The United States Constitution states that the Vice President of the United States is the President of the Senate and the highest-ranking official of the Senate despite not being a member of the body. During the Vice President's absence, the president pro tempore presides over its sessions or appoints another senator to do so. The president pro tempore is elected by the Senate and is customarily the longest serving senator in the majority party.[4] Normally, neither the Vice President of the United States nor the President pro tempore presides; instead, the duty is generally delegated to the junior senators of the majority party to help them learn parliamentary procedure.[5] The president pro tempore is third in the line of succession to the presidency, after the vice president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.[6]

Daniel Inouye, a Democrat and senior senator from Hawaii, is the current president pro tempore.[7] By Senate tradition, the Democrat next in line to become president pro tempore after Inouye is Patrick Leahy, senior senator from Vermont. The senior members of the minority party are Republicans Richard Lugar, senior senator from Indiana, and Orrin Hatch, senior senator from Utah, but they disagree as to which of them is the more senior.[8]


Power and responsibilities

The president pro tempore is an office of the Senate mandated by Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution.[9] Although the position is in some ways equivalent to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the powers of the president pro tempore are far more limited. In the Senate, most power rests with party leaders and individual senators, but as the chamber's presiding officer, the president pro tempore is authorized to perform certain duties in the absence of the vice president, including ruling on points of order.[10] Additionally, the president pro tempore is one of the two authorities to whom declarations of presidential inability or of ability to resume the presidency must be transmitted under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution (the speaker is the other). The president pro tempore is third in the line of presidential succession, following the vice president and the speaker.[6][10] Additional duties include appointment of various congressional officers, certain commissions, advisory boards, and committees and joint supervision of the congressional page school.[10] The president pro tempore is the designated legal recipient of various reports to the Senate, including War Powers Act reports under which he or she, jointly with the speaker, may have the president call Congress back into session. The officeholder is an ex officio member of various boards and commissions. With the secretary and sergeant at arms, the president pro tempore maintains order in Senate portions of the Capitol and Senate buildings.[10][11]


Benjamin F. Wade came within one vote of being the first president pro tempore to succeed to the presidency after the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson in 1868.

The office of president pro tempore was established by the Constitution of the United States in 1789. The first president pro tempore, John Langdon, was elected on April 6 the same year.[10] Originally, the president pro tempore was appointed on an intermittent basis when the vice president was not present to preside over the Senate. Until the 1960s, it was common practice for the vice president to preside over daily Senate sessions, so the president pro tempore rarely presided unless the vice presidency became vacant.[12]

Until 1891, the president pro tempore only served until the return of the vice president to the chair or the adjournment of a session of Congress. Between 1792 and 1886, the president pro tempore was second in the line of presidential succession following the vice president and preceding the speaker.[12]

When President Andrew Johnson, who had no vice president, was impeached and tried in 1868, Senate President pro tempore Benjamin Franklin Wade was next in line to the presidency. Wade's radicalism is thought by many historians to be a major reason why the Senate, which did not want to see Wade in the White House, acquitted Johnson.[13] The president pro tempore and the speaker were removed from the line of succession in 1886, but were restored in 1947. This time however the president pro tempore followed the speaker.[10]

Following the resignation for health reasons of President pro tempore William P. Frye, a Senate divided among progressive Republicans, conservative Republicans, and Democrats reached a compromise by which each of their candidates would rotate holding the office from 1911 to 1913. (See Presidents pro tempore of the United States Senate, 1911-1913.)[10]

Only three former presidents pro tempore ever became vice president: John Tyler, William R. King and Charles Curtis, and Tyler also the only one to have become president, when he succeeded William Henry Harrison in 1841.

Related officials

Acting president pro tempore

While the president pro tempore does have other official duties, the holders of the office have, like the vice president, over time ceased presiding over the Senate on a daily basis, owing to the mundane and ceremonial nature of the position.[12] Furthermore, as the president pro tempore is now usually the most senior senator of the majority party, he or she most likely also chairs a major Senate committee and has other significant demands on his or her time. Therefore, the president pro tempore has less time now than in the past to preside daily over the Senate. Instead, junior senators from the majority party are designated acting president pro tempore to preside over the Senate.[14] This allows junior senators to learn proper parliamentary procedure.[5]

Permanent Acting President pro tempore

In June 1963, because of the illness of president pro tempore Carl Hayden, Senator Lee Metcalf was designated permanent acting president pro tempore. No term was imposed on this designation, so Metcalf retained it until he died in office in 1978.[11]

Deputy President pro tempore

Hubert Humphrey (D-Minnesota) was the first Deputy President pro tempore in 1977-1978

The ceremonial post of Deputy President pro tempore was created for Hubert Humphrey, a former vice president, in 1977 following his losing bid to become the Senate majority leader.[15] The Senate resolution creating the position stated that any former president or former vice president serving in the Senate would be entitled to this position, though none has served since Humphrey's death in 1978,[11] and Walter Mondale, who sought a seat in Minnesota in 2002, is the only one to have tried. Andrew Johnson is the only former president to have subsequently served in the Senate.

When the president pro tempore becomes unable to perform the duties of office for an extended period, the current practice is to elect a senator deputy president pro tempore, as opposed to a permanent acting president pro tempore, to carry out the duties until the president pro tempore can resume the duties. George J. Mitchell was elected deputy president pro tempore in 1987, because of the illness of president pro tempore John C. Stennis. The office has remained vacant since 1988. Hubert Humphrey and George J. Mitchell are the only senators to date that have held the title.[11]

The post may be largely honorary and ceremonial; nevertheless, it comes with a salary. By statute, the compensation granted to the position holder equals the rate of annual compensation paid to the president pro tempore, majority leader, and minority leader. (See 2 U.S.C. § 32a.)[11]

President pro tempore emeritus

Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), former president pro tempore, and most recent president pro tempore emeritus.
Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) served as president pro tempore and president pro tempore emeritus in the 1990s and 2000s

Since 2001, the honorary title of president pro tempore emeritus has been given to a member of the minority party in the United States Senate who has previously served as president pro tempore. Republican Ted Stevens was the most recent to hold the title. Stevens served as president pro tempore from 2003 to 2007, and then became president pro tempore emeritus until he left the Senate in 2009.

Strom Thurmond (R-South Carolina) was the first person elected president pro tempore emeritus, being elected when the Democratic Party regained a majority in the Senate in 2001.[16] With the change in party control, Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia replaced Thurmond as president pro tempore, reclaiming a position he had previously held from 1989 to 1995 and again briefly earlier in 2001. Thurmond served as president pro tempore emeritus until his retirement from the Senate on January 3, 2003, which coincided with another party change (from Democratic to Republican control) making Byrd the second person to hold the position.[11]

While the president pro tempore emeritus had no official duties, he was entitled to an increase in staff.[17] The president pro tempore emeritus also worked closely with party leaders and advised them on the functions of the Senate.

A president pro tempore emeritus whose party regains the majority can also serve again as President pro tempore, as happened at the beginning of the 110th Congress on January 4, 2007. When party control changed from Republican to Democratic, Robert Byrd reclaimed the position of president pro tempore from Ted Stevens, who became the third president pro tempore emeritus. Currently, the position is vacant, as no former presidents pro tem are in the Senate.


The salary of the president pro tempore for 2006 was $188,500, equal to that of the majority leaders and minority leaders of both houses of Congress. If there is a vacancy in the office of vice president, then the salary would be the same as that of the vice president, $221,000.[11]

See also


  1. ^ Pro tempore | Define Pro tempore at
  2. ^ a b Pro tempore Legal Definition -
  3. ^ pro tempore definition - Nolo's Free Dictionary of Law Terms and Legal Definitions
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b "Hillary takes Senate gavel– for an hour". CNN. January 24, 2001. 
  6. ^ a b Mount, Steve. "Constitutional Topic: Presidential Line of Succession". Steve Mount. Retrieved October 19, 2009. 
  7. ^ Hulse, Carl (June 28, 2010). "Inouye Sworn In as President Pro Tem". New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2010. 
  8. ^ Al Kamen (September 14, 2009). "GOP Dilemma: Who's on First?". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 10, 2010. 
  9. ^ Kathy Gill. "US Senate Organization". The New York Times Company. Retrieved October 19, 2009. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g "Senate President Pro Tempore". Dirksen Congressional Center. Retrieved October 30, 2009. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Sachs, Richard C. (January 22, 2003) (PDF). The President Pro Tempore of the Senate: History and Authority of the Office. Congressional Research Service.*PL%3F%3D%22P%20%20%0A. Retrieved December 9, 2008. 
  12. ^ a b c Richard E. Berg-Andersson (June 7, 2001). "A Brief History of Congressional Leadership". The Green Papers. Retrieved November 17, 2009. 
  13. ^ Smith, Gene (1977). High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson. William Morrow & Company. ISBN 0688030726. 
  14. ^ Gold, Martin B.; Gupta, Dimple. "The Constitutional Option to Change Senate Rules and Procedures: A Majoritarian Means to Over Come the Filibuster*". Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy 28 (1): 211. 
  15. ^ "Hubert H. Humphrey". Evisum Inc.. 2000. Retrieved December 24, 2009. 
  16. ^ S.Res. 103, adopted, June 6, 2001. “Thanking and Electing Strom Thurmond President pro tempore emeritus.”
  17. ^ 2 U.S.C. § 32b

External links

United States presidential line of succession
Preceded by
Speaker of the House of Representatives
John Boehner
3rd in line Succeeded by
Secretary of State
Hillary Rodham Clinton

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