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What Does a President of the Senate Do?

The House and Senate convene in the U.S. Capital building.
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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2014
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In the United States, the office of the president of the Senate is held by the nation’s vice president. Despite what his title may suggest, the office actually has fairly few duties in practice. The main responsibilities include casting votes when ties have occurred and occasionally presiding over the Senate in a ceremonial capacity. When the Senate's president is not present — as regularly happens — an elected figure called the president pro tempore presides.

Perhaps the most significant power awarded to the president of the Senate is that of casting deciding votes. This prerogative is exercised only when the results of a Senate vote on a given issue are equally split, 50-50. In this case, the officeholder, if present, may opt to vote, deciding the issue. If he or she is absent in a tie situation, the motion fails. It is only when the Senate has arrived at a tie that this person is allowed to cast a vote.

At times, the Senate’s president also presides over ceremonial events. He or she may, for instance, be present to swear in new senators. In addition, he or she may preside on those occasions when the Senate and the House of Representatives meet together for shared discussion or to listen to an address given by the US president. These meetings are known as joint sessions.

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As the individual serving as the president of the Senate is simultaneously serving as the United States vice president, he or she is frequently detained by executive duties and is, therefore, unable to preside over a large proportion of Senate activities. Consequently, the president pro tempore frequently takes over the day-to-day duties of leading Senate business. This includes pronouncing vote results and inviting senators to address the chamber. Though the president pro tempore must win his seat through a Senate election, in most cases, he or she is the longest-serving member of the Senate majority party.

Often, however, the president pro tempore passes on these daily duties to junior senators from the majority party, who preside over the Senate for short periods. This experience enables them to gain a valuable working knowledge of Senate policies and processes.

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chicada
Post 3

@ parmnparsley- I think that a big deal was being made out of the fact that she was running for the position and did not take the time to understand what the job entails. People feel that when you are hiring someone to the number two job in the United States executive branch, that person should be fully qualified to take that responsibility.

parmnparsley
Post 2

@ GlassHouse- Why do people like you and the media always make such a big deal about small missteps by Sarah Palin? Everyone makes mistakes, I just don't understand why everyone is so hard on her for her mistakes.

Glasshouse
Post 1

I think an award for the biggest misunderstanding of the duties of the vice president should go to former Vice President Candidate Sarah Palin. During her vice presidential debate with Joe Biden, she said she would get right in there with the Senate to make big decisions. I thought that was a disturbing sign that she did not know the role of the vice president and got it confused with the role of the senate majority leader. It was a memorable moment in political gaffes.

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