WASHINGTON – Today, the Senate unanimously named Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who was first elected to serve Iowans in the U.S. Senate in 1980, to be Senate president pro tempore, a position that has historically been bestowed upon the most senior member of the majority party in the upper chamber of Congress. Upon his swearing in, Grassley became third in the line of presidential succession following the vice president and the speaker of the House of Representatives.
Grassley has represented Iowa in the U.S. Senate for 38 years and succeeds Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah as Senate president pro tempore. The only other Iowan to hold the office was Sen. Albert B. Cummins, who assumed office in 1919, 100 years before Grassley assumed the role. Cummins served as Senate president pro tempore in the 66th, 67th, 68th and 69th Congresses.
“This is an honor for me and the state of Iowa. Iowans have trusted me to represent them in the Senate for 38 years. This constitutional office is another opportunity to deliver results for the people of Iowa and to defend the institution of the greatest deliberative body on Earth, the United States Senate,” Grassley said. “I may only be three heartbeats away from the Oval Office, but my heart is and always will be in Iowa and here in the U.S. Senate.”
Grassley recently wrote an op-ed about becoming Senate president pro tempore, available here.
Information from the Congressional Research Service regarding the position of Senate president pro tempore can be found below:
- The U.S. Constitution establishes the office of the President pro tempore of the Senate to preside over the Senate in the Vice President’s absence. Since 1947, the President pro tempore has stood third in line to succeed to the presidency after the Vice President and the Speaker of the House.
- Ninety different Senators have served as President pro tempore.
- Since 1890, the President pro tempore has customarily been the majority party Senator with the longest continuous service.
- The President pro tempore of the Senate is one of only three legislative officers established by the U.S. Constitution. The other two are the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Vice President of the United States, who also serves as President of the Senate. The Constitution designates the President pro tempore to serve in the Vice President’s absence. The President pro tempore is often popularly known as the President pro tem.
- With the passage of the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, the President pro tempore was restored to the line of succession, this time following the Vice President and the Speaker of the House.
- Article I, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution declares, “The Senate shall choose their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States.” Aside from the Vice President’s designation as President of the Senate, the President pro tempore is the only position in the Senate explicitly established by the Constitution.
- Under the Constitution, the Vice President may cast a vote in the Senate only when the body is equally divided. The question of whether a President pro tempore retained his vote while he was performing the duties of his office was clarified by a Senate resolution adopted on April 19, 1792, which declared that he retained “his right to vote upon all questions.”
- In the modern Senate, with the exception of his authority to appoint other Senators to preside, the President pro tempore’s powers as presiding officer differ little from those of the Vice President or any other Senator who presides over the Senate. These powers include the authority to:
- Recognize Senators desiring to speak, introduce bills, or offer amendments and motions to bills being debated. The presiding officer’s power of recognition is much more limited than that of the House Speaker or whoever presides in the House. In the Senate, the presiding officer is required by Rule XIX to recognize the first Senator standing and seeking recognition. By precedent, the party floor leaders and committee managers are given priority in recognition.
- Decide points of order, subject to appeal by the full Senate.
- Appoint Senators to House-Senate conference committees, although this function is essentially ministerial. Conferees are almost always first determined by the chairman and ranking Member of the standing committee with jurisdiction over the measure, in consultation with party leaders. A list of the recommended appointments is then provided to the chair.
- Enforce decorum.
- Administer oaths.
- Appoint members to special committees—again, after the majority and minority leaders make initial determinations.
- Over the years, other powers have also accrued to the President pro tempore. Many of these are ministerial. Decisions are first made by each party’s principal political leaders—in the Senate, the majority and minority floor leaders—and the President pro tempore’s charge is to implement their decisions. These include appointments to the following positions:
- Director of the Congressional Budget Office (made jointly with the Speaker of the House);
- Senate legislative counsel and legal counsel;
- Senators to serve on trade delegations; and
- Certain commissions, advisory boards, and committees, such as the boards of visitors to the U.S. military academies, the American Folklife Center, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.
- The President pro tempore is responsible for recommending candidates for U.S. Comptroller General, the head of the Government Accountability Office.
- After the President has submitted a report pursuant to the War Powers Act, the President pro tempore and the Speaker of the House have the authority to request jointly that the President convene Congress in order to consider the content of the report and to take appropriate action.
- The President pro tempore works with the Secretary of the Senate and the Sergeant at Arms of the Senate to ensure the enforcement of the rules governing the use of the Capitol and the Senate office buildings.