Neha Patil (Editor)

President pro tempore of the United States Senate

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Constituting instrument
U.S. Constitution

March 4, 1789

President pro tempore of the United States Senate

Mr. President (Informal and within the Senate) The Honorable (Formal)

Elected by the U.S. Senate

Term length
During the pleasure of the Senate and until another is elected or their term of office as a Senator expires

Inaugural holder
John Langdon April 6, 1789

The president pro tempore of the United States Senate (/ˌpr ˈtɛmpər/ or /ˌpr ˈtɛmpər/), also 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, despite not being a senator, the President of the Senate, 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. 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 senators of the majority party to give them experience in parliamentary procedure.


Since 1890, the most senior 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. Since 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.

The current President pro tempore of the Senate is Utah Republican Orrin Hatch. Elected on January 6, 2015, he is the 90th person to serve in this office.

Power and responsibilities

The office of president pro tempore is created by Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution:

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.

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. 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. Additional duties include appointment of various congressional officers, certain commissions, advisory boards, and committees and joint supervision of the congressional page school. 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.


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. 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. 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.

On 3 occasions during the 19th century, the Senate was without both a president and a president pro tempore:

  • July 9–11, 1850, following Millard Fillmore's accession to the presidency upon the death of Zachary Taylor, until William R. King was elected president pro tempore;
  • September 19 – October 10, 1881, following Chester Arthur's accession to the presidency upon the death of James A. Garfield, until Thomas F. Bayard was elected president pro tempore;
  • November 25 – December 7, 1885, following the death of Vice President Thomas A. Hendricks, until John Sherman was elected 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. 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.

    William P. Frye served as President pro tempore from 1896 to 1911 (54th–62nd Congress, a tenure longer than anyone else. He resigned from the position due to ill health a couple of months 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 would serve 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—would alternate as president pro tempore for the remainder of the Congress.

    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 (in 1947–1949) was the last president pro tempore not to be the senior member of the majority party, aside from the single day accorded Milton Young (in December 1980), who was the retiring senior member of the Republican Party, which would hold the majority in the incoming 97th Congress.

    Three presidents pro tempore subsequently became Vice President: John Tyler, William R. King and Charles Curtis. Tyler is the only one to become president (in April 1841, following the death of William Henry Harrison).

    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. 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. This allows junior senators to learn proper parliamentary procedure. The acting president pro tempore is usually reappointed daily by the president pro tempore.

    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.

    Deputy president pro tempore

    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. 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, and former vice president Walter Mondale, who sought his former Senate 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.

    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. 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.)

    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. 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. While a president pro tempore emeritus has no official duties, he is entitled to an increase in staff 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. Quoted in CQ Roll Call, Leahy commented, "They didn't keep their commitment. They want to treat us differently than we treated them, and so they've got that right. It seems kind of petty, but it really doesn't matter to me. I've got plenty of funding, plenty of good staff."


    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.


    President pro tempore of the United States Senate Wikipedia