President pro tempore of the United States Senate

United States presidential line of succession Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Robert Byrd

President pro tempore of the United States Senate
President Pro Tempore US Senate Seal.svg
Seal of the President pro tempore
Chuck Grassley official photo 2017.jpg
Chuck Grassley

since January 3, 2019
United States Senate
SeatSenate chamber, United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.
AppointerUnited States Senate
Term lengthAt the pleasure of the Senate, and until another is elected or their term of office as a Senator expires
Constituting instrumentUnited States Constitution
FormationMarch 4, 1789
First holderJohn Langdon
DeputyAny senator, typically a member of the majority party, designated by the President pro tempore

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. Article One, Section Three of the United States Constitution provides that the vice president of the United States is the president of the Senate (despite not being a senator), and mandates that the Senate must choose a president pro tempore to act in the vice president's absence. Unlike the vice president, the president pro tempore is an elected member of the Senate, able to speak or vote on any issue. Selected by the Senate at large, the president pro tempore has enjoyed many privileges and some limited powers.[2] During the vice president's absence, the president pro tempore is empowered to preside over Senate sessions. In practice, neither the vice president nor the president pro tempore usually presides; instead, the duty of presiding officer is rotated among junior U.S. senators of the majority party to give them experience in parliamentary procedure.[3]

Since 1890, the most senior U.S. senator in the majority party has generally been chosen to be president pro tempore and holds the office continuously until the election of another. This tradition has been observed without interruption since 1949.[4] Since the enactment of the current Presidential Succession Act in 1947, 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 and ahead of the secretary of state.[5]

The current president pro tempore of the Senate is Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley. Elected on January 3, 2019, he is the 91st person to serve in this office.[6]

Power and responsibilities

Although the position is in some ways analogous 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.[7] Additionally, under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, the president pro tempore and the speaker are the two authorities to whom declarations must be transmitted that the president is unable to perform the duties of the office, or is able to resume doing so. The president pro tempore is third in the line of presidential succession, following the vice president and the speaker,[7] and consequently is one of the few members of Congress entitled to a full-time security detail.[8] Additional duties include appointment of various congressional officers, certain commissions, advisory boards, and committees and joint supervision of the congressional page school.[7] 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.[7][9]


Position established

The office of president pro tempore was established by the Constitution of the United States in 1789. Between 1792 and 1886, the president pro tempore was second in the line of presidential succession, following the vice president and preceding the speaker. Through 1891, the president pro tempore was appointed on an intermittent basis only, when the vice president was not present to preside over the Senate, or at the adjournment of a session of Congress.[10]

The first president pro tempore, John Langdon, was elected on April 6, 1789,[7] serving four separate terms between 1789 and 1793. More than twelve senators[clarification needed] held the office during the Senate's first decade,[11] presiding over sessions, signing legislation, and performing routine administrative tasks.

Whenever the office of the vice presidency was vacant, as it was on ten occasions between 1812 and 1889,[12] the office garnered heightened importance, for although he did not assume the vice presidency, the president pro tempore stood next in line for the presidency.[13] Before the ratification of the Twenty-fifth Amendment in 1967, a vacancy in the vice presidency could be filled only by a regular election; several individuals who served during these vacancies were referred to informally as "acting vice president."[14]

On three occasions during the 19th century, the Senate was without both a president and a president pro tempore:

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.[17] The president pro tempore and the speaker of the House were removed from the presidential line of succession in 1886. Both were restored to it in 1947, though this time with the president pro tempore following the speaker.[7]

William P. Frye served as president pro tempore from 1896 to 1911 (the 54th through the 62nd Congress), a tenure longer than anyone else. He resigned from the position due to ill health shortly before his death. Electing his successor proved difficult, as Senate Republicans, then in the majority, were split between progressive and conservative factions, each promoting its own candidate. Likewise, the Democrats proposed their own candidate. As a result of this three-way split, no individual received a majority vote. It took four months for a compromise solution to emerge: Democrat Augustus Bacon served for a single day, August 14, 1911, during the vice president's absence. Thereafter, Bacon and four Republicans—Charles Curtis, Jacob Gallinger, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Frank Brandegee—alternated as president pro tempore for the remainder of the Congress.[7]

Modern era

John Tyler is the only Senate president pro tempore to also become President of the United States.

In January 1945, the 79th Congress elected Kenneth McKellar, who at the time was the senator with the longest continuous service, to be president pro tempore. Since then, it has become customary for the majority party's senior member to hold this position. Arthur Vandenberg (from 1947 to 1949) was the last president pro tempore not to be the senior member of the majority party, aside from the single day in December 1980 accorded Milton Young, who was the retiring senior member of the Republican Party, which would hold the majority in the incoming 97th Congress.[4]

Three presidents pro tempore have gone on to be elected to the office of vice president—John Tyler, William R. King, and Charles Curtis—of whom Tyler is the only one to become president, assuming the office in April 1841 upon the death of William Henry Harrison.

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.[10] Furthermore, as the president pro tempore is now usually the most senior senator of the majority party, he most likely also chairs a major Senate committee and has other significant demands on his 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.[18] This allows junior senators to learn proper parliamentary procedure.[3] The acting president pro tempore is usually reappointed daily by the president pro tempore.[19]

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.[9]

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.[20] 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. However, since Humphrey, none have served.[9]

George J. Mitchell was elected deputy president pro tempore in 1987, because of the illness of president pro tempore John C. Stennis, similar to Metcalf's earlier designation as permanent acting president pro tempore. The office has remained vacant since 1989 and no senator other than Humphrey and Mitchell has held it since its creation.[9] Mitchell is the only person to have served as deputy president pro tempore who was neither a former president nor former vice president of the United States.

The post is largely honorary and ceremonial, but comes with a salary increase. 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. § 6112.)[9]

President pro tempore emeritus

Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), former president pro tempore, and current president pro tempore emeritus

Since 2001, the honorary title of president pro tempore emeritus has been given to a senator of the minority party who has previously served as president pro tempore. The position has been held by Strom Thurmond (R-South Carolina) (2001–2003), Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) (2003–2007), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) (2007–2009) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) (2015–present). From 2009 to 2015, no senator met the requirements for the position.

The position was created for Thurmond when the Democratic Party regained a majority in the Senate in June 2001.[21] 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 briefly in January 2001. Thurmond's retirement from the Senate on January 3, 2003, coincided with a change from Democratic to Republican control, making Stevens president pro tempore and Byrd the second president pro tempore emeritus. Byrd returned as president pro tempore, and Stevens became the third president pro tempore emeritus, when the Democrats gained control of the Senate in 2007.[9] While a president pro tempore emeritus has no official duties, he is entitled to an increase in staff[22] and advises party leaders on the functions of the Senate.

The office's accompanying budget increase was removed toward the end of the 113th Congress, shortly before Patrick Leahy was to become the first holder of the title in six years.[23]


The salary of the president pro tempore for 2012 was $193,400, 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, $230,700.[9]

See also


  1. ^ "3 U.S. Code § 19 - Vacancy in offices of both President and Vice President; officers eligible to act". LII / Legal Information Institute.
  2. ^ Senate Historical Office; With a preface by Senator Robert C. Byrd, President pro tempore (2008). Erickson, Nancy (Secretary of the Senate) (ed.). Pro Tem: Presidents Pro Tempore of the United States Senate since 1789. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-16-079984-6. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  3. ^ a b "Hillary takes Senate gavel–for an hour". CNN. January 24, 2001. Archived from the original on January 20, 2010.
  4. ^ a b Davis, Christopher M. (December 20, 2012). The President Pro Tempore of the Senate: History and Authority of the Office (Report). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved February 23, 2015.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  5. ^ Lord, Debbie (June 18, 2018). "A president resigns, dies or is impeached: What is the line of succession?". wftv.com. Cox Media Group. Retrieved June 18, 2018.
  6. ^ "Grassley Sworn in as Senate President Pro Tempore". Chuck Grassley: United States Senator for Iowa. January 3, 2018. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "President Pro Tempore". United States Senate. Retrieved May 2, 2017.
  8. ^ Stricherz, Mark (June 16, 2017). "Congressional Security Details Remain Murky". rollcall.com. Retrieved March 18, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Sachs, Richard C. (January 22, 2003). "The President Pro Tempore of the Senate: History and Authority of the Office" (PDF). Congressional Research Service Report. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved December 9, 2008.
  10. ^ a b Richard E. Berg-Andersson (June 7, 2001). "A Brief History of Congressional Leadership". The Green Papers. Retrieved November 17, 2009.
  11. ^ Erickson, Nancy, ed. (August 22, 2008). "Chapter 1:The Formative Years, 1789–1860" (PDF). Pro tem : presidents pro tempore of the United States Senate since 1789. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing office. pp. 7–10. ISBN 978-0-16-079984-6. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  12. ^ Neale, Thomas H. (September 27, 2004). "Presidential and Vice Presidential Succession: Overview and Current Legislation" (PDF). CRS Report for Congress. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, the Library of Congress. p. 22. Retrieved June 16, 2018.
  13. ^ "John Tyler, Tenth Vice President (1841)". Washington, D.C.: Office of the Secretary, United States Senate. Retrieved June 30, 2018.
  14. ^ "Lafayette Foster". Art & History. Washington, D.C.: Secretary of the Senate. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  15. ^ Feerick, John D.; Freund, Paul A. (1965). From Failing Hands: the Story of Presidential Succession. New York City: Fordham University Press. pp. 104–105. LCCN 65-14917.
  16. ^ a b Erickson, Nancy, ed. (August 22, 2008). "Chapter 2: A Question of Succession, 1861-1889" (PDF). Pro tem : presidents pro tempore of the United States Senate since 1789. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing office. pp. 55–57. ISBN 978-0-16-079984-6. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  17. ^ Smith, Gene (1977). High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson. William Morrow & Company. ISBN 0-688-03072-6.
  18. ^ Gold, Martin B.; Gupta, Dimple. "The Constitutional Option to Change Senate Rules and Procedures: A Majoritarian Means to Over Come the Filibuster*" (PDF). Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. 28 (1): 211.
  19. ^ "APPOINTMENT OF A SENATOR TO THE CHAIR - Rules of the Senate - United States Senate Committee on Rules and Administration". Archived from the original on December 2, 2016.
  20. ^ "Hubert H. Humphrey". virtualology.com. Evisum Inc. 2000. Retrieved December 24, 2009.
  21. ^ S.Res. 103, adopted, June 6, 2001. "Thanking and Electing Strom Thurmond President pro tempore emeritus."
  22. ^ 2 U.S.C. § 32b
  23. ^ Lesniewski, Niels (December 10, 2014). "Leahy: 'Kind of Petty' Not to Fund Emeritus Office in 'Cromnibus'". CQ Roll Call. Retrieved January 7, 2015.