What is the President Pro Tempore of the Senate?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The president pro tempore of the Senate is the second-highest official in the United States Senate, after the vice president, who is the president ex officio of the Senate. Typically, the person holding this position is the senior senator of the majority party, and the highest ranking member of the Senate as a result. This position is primarily ceremonial, and it comes with numerous responsibilities and rather limited powers. It is considered a great honor to serve in this role, however, not least because it puts a senator third in the line of presidential succession.

Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

This position was first outlined in 1789 in the Constitution. When the vice president is not available to preside over the Senate, the president pro tempore has the power to preside, governing proceedings and making rulings on points of procedure. It is not uncommon for this person to allow a junior senator to preside, giving the less experienced lawmaker a chance to learn more about how the Senate works. The official is entitled to a slightly larger staff than other senators, thanks to the increased responsibility associated with the position.

The Senate officially elects a member to this job, although by convention, the position is awarded to the senior member of the majority party, and the election is typically unanimous. In the event that the party majority changes and the senator remains in office, he or she becomes the emeritus president pro tempore. This is a mark of respect when the position is assumed by the senior member of the new majority party.

It is also possible to see an acting president pro tempore, an official who is appointed to take over when the person holding the position is incapacitated or disabled. Acting presidents are not in line for the office of the president, and they will be passed over in the event of a situation where the president and vice president are incapacitated. As a gesture of courtesy, former presidents and vice presidents are considered deputy presidents pro tempore, although it is extremely unusual for these officials to serve in the Senate after their terms are over.

A number of ceremonial duties accompany this position, and the official is usually expected to preside over major Senator proceedings. Due to his or her senior rank, he or she also usually has a number of committee obligations and other responsibilities. In recognition for the additional work which accompanies the position, it is compensated more than other senators.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@ GeorgesPlane- The current President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate is Daniel K. Inouye from Hawaii. If he should leave the senate for any reason while the democrats hold a majority, the next in line for the job would be Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont. If the balance of power were to switch to the Republican Party within the senate, then the next President Pro Tempore would be Dick Lugar from Indiana. The next most senior republican senator after Dick Lugar is Orin Hatch from Utah. The majority and minority leaders of the senate are Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell respectively.


Who is the current President Pro Tempore?


It's probably useful to note that at this time President Pro Tempore is Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia. He is the enator, with 50 years of service since his first inauguration in 1959. He is also the last remaining senator to have ever been a member of the Ku Klux Klan, although he has since renounced them and their prejudiced views, and has went on to earn a perfect score on the Nation Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples's(NAACP) report card for the 108th Senate.

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