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Patty Murray set to become first woman to serve as Senate president pro tempore, third in line to presidency

Nov. 17, 2022 Updated Thu., Nov. 17, 2022 at 10:06 p.m.

During a Northwest Passages event, Sen. Patty Murray debates Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley before a live audience at Gonzaga University’s Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center on Oct. 23.  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)
During a Northwest Passages event, Sen. Patty Murray debates Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley before a live audience at Gonzaga University’s Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center on Oct. 23. (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)

WASHINGTON – After winning a sixth term in office, Sen. Patty Murray is set to become the first woman to serve as Senate president pro tempore, a role that would put her third in line to the presidency, her office announced Wednesday.

The Washington Democrat is also likely to helm the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, which directs billions in federal spending, when a new Congress is sworn in at the start of 2023. Together, the two positions reflect the clout Murray has accumulated over three decades in the upper chamber.

Traditionally, the most senior member of the majority party serves as “pro tem,” a job that involves presiding over Senate business in the absence of the vice president, who technically serves as president of the Senate but in modern times is seldom at the Capitol.

With the retirement of Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who is also the outgoing Appropriations Committee chairman, that distinction goes to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who took office two months before Murray after a special election in 1992. But Feinstein, D-Calif., turned down the role, paving the way for Murray to serve as pro tem.

While largely symbolic, the role carries several other responsibilities, along with a security detail, a pay raise and an office in the Capitol building. The pro tem, in consultation with the speaker of the House, appoints the head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office – which estimates the cost of proposed legislation – as well as Senate legislative and legal counsels.

To make room for her new roles, Murray, 72, will step away from her current position as assistant majority leader, the No. 3 position in Democratic leadership. Still, she is likely to remain an influential member of the party.

When Murray began her first campaign for Congress in 1992, there were only two women in the Senate, although a third – North Dakota Democrat Jocelyn Burdick – was appointed to fill her late husband’s seat later that year. Feinstein won a special election and was seated about two months before Murray and the two other new female senators, enough that 1992 was dubbed “the year of the woman.”

Today, 24 of the 100 senators are women along with 123 of 435 representatives in the House.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., nominated Murray to serve as pro tem during Senate Democrats’ leadership lunch on Wednesday. The party’s leadership vote is scheduled for Dec. 8, and the 118th Congress will be sworn in on Jan. 3.

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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