Comprised of 100 elected officials, the United States Senate represents one half of the U.S. Congress. Senators have argued over the generations that the Senate is also the “better half” of the nation’s legislative body. Sometimes referred to as the “upper house,” the Senate has maintained a tradition of behaving more stately than the House of Representatives (the so-called “lower house”) and prided itself in maintaining its decorum while carrying out its duties. Like the House, the Senate spends much of its time considering legislation and passing new laws. It also is responsible for other important duties not shared by the House, such as approving treaties with foreign governments, passing judgment on officials impeached by the House, and confirming appointments by the President to the U.S. Supreme Court, other federal judgeships and a huge array of political positions in federal agencies. This latter responsibility has been the subject of considerable debate and even antagonism during the administration of George W. Bush, whose conservative nominees to the federal bench were held up by Senate Democrats. Threats of “nuclear options” by Senate Republicans wreaked havoc on the normally staid affairs of the upper house. The Senate’s pride for proper behavior also took a hit when one of its longest serving members was indicted, and then convicted, on federal charges of concealing gifts from a lobbyist, marking the first time in almost three decades that a senator was convicted of breaking the law.
During the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a serious debate ensued between representatives of large and small states over how power would be apportioned in the new Congress. Delegates from states with lesser populations were concerned that their counterparts would have too much voting power if the new legislative body was based on population. To assuage the fears of smaller states, the “Great Compromise” (or Connecticut Compromise) was reached in which the Senate would have equal representation regardless of a state’s size. The House of Representatives would be made up of members representing districts, not states, therefore giving favor to states with larger populations.
The new Constitution stated that senators had to be at least thirty years of age, citizens of the United States for at least nine years, and residents of the states from which they are chosen. It also provided that state legislatures, not the public, would elect senators. This lasted for more than 125 years, until 1913, when the 17th Amendment was adopted requiring direct election of senators by the people.
While the Senate was given many of the same legislative powers as the House, the “upper house” of Congress was also given two important duties. It alone was charged with approving treaties negotiated with foreign governments and presidential nominations to fill federal positions. While the House was given the power to indict, or impeach, federal officials accused of breaking the law, the Senate was entrusted with trying and convicting them.
Of the 16 individuals in the history of the U.S. who have been impeached by the House, only seven (all judges) were convicted by the Senate. They are:
While the House in 1789 immediately opened its doors to the public, the Senate conducted its business in secret session for the first few years, when it met in New York and Philadelphia. The first U.S. senators saw themselves primarily as an advisory council to the President, and as responsible for “perfecting” legislation offered up by the House. Public pressure eventually forced the Senate to open its chambers to a visitor’s gallery in 1795.
By the 1830s, the Senate came to showcase some of the nation’s leading political figures and orators. Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and others dominated the upper house during this era and cemented the Senate’s reputation as a body of “eloquent advocates, distinguished generals, wise magistrates and statesmen of note,” who stood above the “rabble” of the House of Representatives.
In 1841, the issue of filibusters first arose in the Senate. Unlike the House, which adopted rules limiting debate on a bill, the Senate placed no restrictions on how long a senator can speak on a matter. According to the U.S. Senate Web site, “when the Democratic minority hoped to block a bank bill promoted by Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, he threatened to change Senate rules to allow the majority to close debate. Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton rebuked Clay for trying to stifle the Senate's right to unlimited debate.”
“In 1917, senators adopted a rule (Rule 22) that allowed the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote, a device known as “cloture.” The new Senate rule was first put to the test in 1919, when the Senate invoked cloture to end a filibuster against the Treaty of Versailles. Even with the new cloture rule, filibusters remained an effective means to block legislation, since a two-thirds vote is difficult to obtain. Over the next five decades, the Senate occasionally tried to invoke cloture, but usually failed to gain the necessary two-thirds vote. Filibusters were particularly useful to Southern senators who sought to block civil rights legislation, including anti-lynching legislation, until cloture was invoked after a 57-day filibuster against the Civil Right Act of 1964. In 1975, the Senate reduced the number of votes required for cloture from two-thirds to three-fifths, [from 67 to 60] of the current 100 senators.”
In the 1840s and 1850s, the Senate was often focused on the issues of states’ rights and the spread of slavery into new states. Efforts to forge a compromise to keep the republic together eventually failed, leading to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. Southern members resigned from the Senate as their states seceded, and the new Republican Party became the majority of the sharply reduced Senate. Following the end of the war, senators from the North who favored reconstruction of the Southern states clashed frequently with President Andrew Johnson, who adopted Abraham Lincoln’s more lenient policies. Their clashes culminated in the impeachment trial of President Johnson in the Senate chamber, where the president was spared from removal from office by a single vote.
During the remainder of the 19th century, the Senate enjoyed its most powerful period. A series of weak presidents allowed the Senate to become the strongest branch of the federal government. Senators argued that the executive should be subordinate to the legislature, and that the President’s sole role was to enforce the laws enacted by Congress. By the beginning of the 20th century, the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson challenged senatorial dominance, and the balance of power shifted toward the White House. Still, the Senate delivered Wilson a major blow at the end of his presidency by rejecting the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the First World War and created the League of Nations.
During the long reign of President Franklin Roosevelt, the Senate’s relationship with the White House varied. At first, senators went along with much of Roosevelt’s agenda. But when FDR tried to “pack” the U.S. Supreme Court with justices favorable to the President’s plans, many senators broke with Roosevelt.
A major turning point in the Senate’s history occurred in 1946 with the Legislative Reorganization Act. The legislation reshaped the committee system and provided the first professional staff for senators and committees.
The following decade, the Senate fell into the dark period of McCarthyism. Beginning in 1950, Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) used the growing national fear of communism to carry out witch-hunts of suspected individuals in the federal government and important sectors of society, such as Hollywood. McCarthy claimed repeatedly to have lists of people participating in a great communist conspiracy. When challenged about the content of these lists, McCarthy failed to substantiate his claims, and within a few years, his stature diminished. He died in 1957 at the age of 48, of what some believed was alcoholism.
In the early 1970s, Congress investigated the Watergate burglary and accusations that the presidency of Richard Nixon had participated in criminal and unethical behavior. While the House conducted its own inquiries, a Senate investigation was chaired by Sen. Sam Ervin of North Carolina. Testimony and evidence gathered by Ervin’s committee helped bring pressure to bear on Nixon, who was on the verge of being impeached by the House when he chose to resign in 1974.
In recent years, the Senate has increasingly clashed with the White House over the appointment of judges to the federal bench, especially to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1989, Senate Democrats refused to confirm the nomination of Robert Bork to the high court. Two years later, President George H. W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court justice. The Senate hearings became one of the biggest public spectacles of the time, with Thomas accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill, an attorney who had worked with him at the Department of Education. Despite vehement objections from some Democrats, the Senate confirmed Thomas’ appointment to the bench.
In February 1999, all eyes were again on the Senate after the GOP-dominated House voted to impeach President Bill Clinton on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power that arose from scandals involving Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones. Only five Democratic House members voted to impeach Clinton, revealing the partisan nature of the proceedings against the embattled President. Although no one expected the Senate to go along with the House Republicans’ crusade against Clinton, the lower house proceeded with its impeachment vote, dumping the issue in the Senate’s lap. Although Republicans held the majority in the Senate, some refused to vote to convict Clinton, resulting in the president’s acquittal.
The United States Senate is made up of 100 senators, with two elected from each state.
Senators serve for six-year terms, and approximately one-third of Senate seats are up for election every two years. Like members of the House of Representatives, senators are not subject to term limits.
A key part of the Senate’s functions relates to the passage of new laws. The Senate considers proposed legislation (bills or resolutions) that either are first introduced in the Senate or have already been adopted by the House. In either case, bills are usually vetted first in committee, often more than one. If a bill is approved by all required committees, it is sent to the floor of the Senate for a full vote by all senators present. If the bill is approved, and originated in the Senate, it goes to the House for consideration (through House committees and by the full House). If the approved bill originated in the House and the Senate did not make any changes, it goes to the President for signature or veto. Oftentimes there are changes to legislation by the Senate, thus requiring the two bodies of Congress to reach a compromise in a conference committee.
Contrasts Between Senate and House
The Senate is known as a “continuing body” since not all of its members are up for reelection every two years, as is the case in the House. While House members re-adopt their old rules of procedure at the inception of each Congress, senators have not reaffirmed their rules since the Senate first began in 1789. The rules adopted by the Senate in the first congresses have remained in force continuously.
In its rules and practices, the Senate always has emphasized the importance of maintaining decorum in its proceedings. According to Senate rules, “At no stage of the Senate’s proceedings may a senator “refer offensively to any State of the Union. No senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another senator or to other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator.”
Senators are also entitled to speak as long as they like on a bill, which sometimes leads to filibustering—a tactic used to block legislation from coming to a vote. A filibuster (pdf) can be broken, but it requires 60 votes to do so.
A significant duty of the Senate’s (which the House does not share) is the power to approve or reject nominations by the President and treaties with foreign governments. According to the U.S. Senate Web site, “The President nominates all federal judges and specified officers in cabinet-level departments, independent agencies, the military services, the Foreign Service and uniformed civilian services, as well as U.S. attorneys and U.S. marshals. In recent years, more than 300 positions in 14 cabinet agencies and more than 100 positions in independent and other agencies have been subject to presidential appointment. Approximately 4,000 civilian and 65,000 military nominations are submitted to the Senate during each two-year session of Congress. The vast majority are routinely confirmed, while a small but sometimes highly visible number fail to receive action.” In some cases, nominees whom the Senate won’t confirm still can take their office, albeit temporarily, through a recess appointment (pdf).
“The Senate also has the power to approve, by a two-thirds vote, treaties made by the executive branch. The Senate has rejected relatively few of the hundreds of treaties it has considered in its history. Many others, however, have died in committee or been withdrawn by the president rather than face defeat. Some presidents have found it helpful to include senators in negotiating treaties in order to help pave the way for Senate approval.
“When it comes to impeachment proceedings, the House of Representatives has the power to impeach, or indict, a government official. The Senate, however, holds the power to decide whether the official is guilty or not. The Senate carries out the impeachment trial, essentially serving as jury and judge, except in the impeachment of a president, when the chief justice presides. The president, vice president, and all civil officers of the United States are subject to impeachment.”
The leader of the Senate is the Vice President of the United States. However, this duty is largely ceremonial, except in cases where the senate is split 50-50 and the vice president is called in to cast the deciding vote (otherwise, the vice president has no voting power in the Senate). If the vice president is not present in the Senate (which is usually the case), the duty of presiding over the Senate floor falls to the president pro tempore (“president for a time”) who is elected by the Senate and is, by custom, the senator of the majority party with the longest record of continuous service. The true “power post” in the Senate resides with the majority leader, who is elected by members of the majority party. The majority leader often serves as the “face” of the Senate, like the Speaker of the House.
Ratings of Congress (American Conservative Union)
From the Web Site of the U.S. Senate
Executive Calendar (pdf)
Members of the Senate earn $174,000 annually, except for the president pro tempore, and the majority and minority leaders who earn $193,400, according to the Congressional Research Service. This means that more than $174 million is spent each year to pay for the salaries of the 100 senators.
Senators have three official allowances available to them for personnel and official office expenses. These allowances cover administrative and clerical expenses, including the hiring of staff. The administrative and clerical assistance allowance and the office expense allowance vary for each senator because the amounts are governed by state population, distance from Washington D.C., to home states, and other limits. In FY 2011, the total value of allowances available for senators ranged from $2,985,760 to $4,709,195.
Other Senate personnel include the secretary of the senate, sergeant at arms and doorkeeper, legislative counsel and senate legal counsel, all of whom earn $172,500. The parliamentarian earns $171,315 and the chaplain $155,500.
In addition to spending money on themselves and their staff, senators appropriate billions of dollars each year on projects for their home states. Many of these earmarks are labeled as “pork-barrel spending” by congressional watchdogs, such as the Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW). Each year CAGW publishes the “Pig Book Summary” which highlights the biggest pork projects approved by Congress.
According to CAGW, in FY 2010, Congress okayed 9,129 projects worth $16.5 billion into the 12 appropriations bills.
Among the findings by CAGW were:
$198,150,000 for 37 projects proposed by Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), including: $23,000,000 for the Hawaii Federal Health Care Network (since 2001, nine projects worth $180,650,000 have been earmarked for this network); $10,000,000 for a Hawaii technology development
venture; and $8,000,000 for the Center of Excellence for Research in Ocean Sciences (CEROS). Since 1996, seven projects worth $47,600,000 have been earmarked for this center.
$93,900,000 for 25 projects proposed by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia), including: $10,000,000 for four earmarks for the Joint Interagency Training and Education Center; $8,000,000 for the Smart Sensor Supercomputing Center; $7,000,000 for the Robert C. Byrd Institute of Advanced Flexible Manufacturing Systems (according to a February 28, 2010, herald-dispatch.com article, “The Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing is joining forces with Cabell County Career Technology Center to offer evening welding classes to the Tri-State Area. It’s part of an effort enhance the pool of skilled workers available to industry.”); and $800,000 for a West Virginia counter-drug program.
$181,200,000 for 50 projects proposed by Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), including: $8,100,000 for a DDG-51 hybrid drive system (Sen. Cochran asked for the hybrid drive system, yet the $250,000,000 for additional advance procurement for the DDG-51 program itself was anonymous); $7,840,000 for an extremely large, domestic expendable and reusable structures manufacturing center; $4,000,000 for the Army Center of Excellence in Acoustics, National Center for Physical Acoustics; $3,280,000 for the Cooperative International Neuromuscular Research Group; $3,120,000 for online health services optimization; $2,400,000 for the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies; and $800,000 for a Historically Black Colleges and Universities applied research incubator.
$7,690,000 for 14 projects proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), including: $2,000,000 for construction at the California National Historic Trail Interpretive Center; $1,700,000 for the Water Research Foundation (at the end of 2007, it had a fund balance of $17 million); $350,000 for Lahontan cutthroat trout; and $200,000 for the Lincoln County Courthouse, Pioche. According to the Pioche Chamber of Commerce’s Web site, the city “enjoys old-west charm, mild summertime temperatures, fine trout fishing, hunting… We are far enough from the beaten track to escape the blatant commercialism that has plagued many tourist towns…”
Schuman, Sunlight Foundation)
Net Worth of Senators
While the median net worth of Americans stood at about $57,000, that of U.S. senators stood at $14 million based on data from 2010-2011.
In Roll Call’s 2012 listing of the “The 50 Richest Members of the 112th Congress,” based on 2011 income, three of the richest politicians on Capitol Hill were Senators John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), Mark Warner (D-Virginia), and Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia).
Kerry was ranked the wealthiest senator, with a net worth of $198.65 million. Warner, with more than $85 million, came in second, and Rockefeller, swapping places with Warner from the year before, came in third among senators with more than $83 million.
Of the top 50 richest people in the legislature, Republicans outpaced Democrats in their affluence, and 19 of the wealthiest were in the Senate.
The Hill’s 50 Wealthiest Lawmakers (by Kevin Bogardus and Megan R. Wilson, The Hill)
Median Net Worth In 2010 At Lowest Level Since 1969: Report (by Harry Bradford, Huffington Post)
The 50 Richest Members of the 112th Congress (2012) (by Amanda Becker, Roll Call)
Wealthy Lawmakers Increased Their Riches as U.S. Economy Sputtered In '09 (by Kevin Bogardus and Barbra Kim, The Hill)
Members of Congress Increased Personal Wealth 25% in Two Years (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Richest Members of Congress Got Richer During Recession (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Sen. John Ensign’s Extramarital Affair and Other Ethics Questions
Once a Republican contender for the presidency, John Ensign of Nevada wound up resigning in disgrace from the Senate.
Ensign was caught cheating on his wife—with the woman married to his best friend and top campaign aide. He also tried to cover up the sex scandal, made false statements to the Federal Election Commission and violated campaign finance laws.
After he resigned his Senate seat, Ensign faced possible criminal charges from evidence turned up in a congressional investigation. His former aide, Doug Hampton—who said Ensign “ruined” his life and “left my family in shambles”—also faced criminal charges for lining up lobbying work for himself before quitting the Senate.
Hampton was originally charged with seven felony counts of violating a one-year ban on former staffers lobbying the Senate. He eventually reached a deal with federal prosecutors who allowed him to plead guilty to one misdemeanor. In September 2012, Hampton received one year’s probation.
Before Ensign left the Senate, he was one of 15 lawmakers who made the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s (CREW) list of most corrupt members of Congress. Those put on the list were accused of unethical or illegal use of their position to “financially benefit themselves, their friends and their families. Earmarks for large campaign contributors are commonplace and many members have traded legislative assistance for personal favors,” according to CREW.
Spouse in Ensign Affair Sought Help in Letter to Fox News (by Jeff German and Lisa Mascaro, Las Vegas Sun)
John Ensign's Sordid Tale: Ethics Committee Report Alleges Senator Broke Law (by Jake Tapper and Matthew Jaffe, ABC News)
Nevada Senator Ensign Resigns Under Ethics Cloud (by JoAnne Allen, Reuters)
Ensign’s Former Aide Reaches Deal with Federal Prosecutors (by Karoun Demirjian, Las Vegas Sun)
Doug Hampton, Former John Ensign Aide, Pleads Guilty To Misdemeanor (by Kevin Freking, Associated Press)
15 Most Corrupt Members of Congress (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Sen. Roland Burris Appointed to Obama’s Seat by Indicted Gov. Blagojevich
After being elected to the White House in 2008, Barack Obama watched as his former seat in the U.S. Senate became tarnished by the appointment of a successor.
With Obama having left his Senate post before his term was up, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich—who was accused of political corruption—was charged with appointing a replacement. Blagojevich selected Roland Burris, the first African-American elected to statewide office in Illinois and a former state attorney general.
Rumors swirled around Burris that he or others bribed Blagojevich for the Senate seat. The controversy upset Senate Democrats who at first refused to allow Burris to join Congress’ upper house. A week later they changed their minds and allowed him to take his seat.
A few months later, Burris announced that he would not seek election in 2010 to a full Senate term.
In November 2009, the Senate Ethics Committee issued a sternly worded rebuke to Burris, saying he had made misleading and inaccurate statements about the circumstances surrounding his appointment by Blagojevich. But it made no recommendation for punishment.
After leaving the Senate, Burris said he did not regret his decision to accept the appointment.
Roland Burris (Wikipedia)
Roland Burris, Proclaimed Senator After All, Despite Blagojevich Controversy (by Amanda Ruggeri, U.S. News & World Report)
Roland W. Burris (New York Times)
Roland Burris: No Regrets on Accepting Senate Seat from Blagojevich (by Carol Felsenthal, Chicago Magazine)
U.S. Sen. Roland Burris Tries To Quell New Questions About His Controversial Appointment By Blagojevich (by Rick Pearson and Janet Hook, Chicago Tribune)
Ex- Sen. Roland Burris Says He Did Nothing Wrong (Associated Press
Sen. Arlen Specter Switches from Republican to Democrat
After more than 30 years representing Pennsylvania as a Republican, Senator Arlen Specter switched his party affiliation in April 2009 and became a Democrat.
Specter, a longtime moderate Republican, was increasingly out of step with his party. The last straw, for many conservatives, was the senator’s decision to support President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan, something only two other Republicans did.
The following year, Specter ran for reelection, this time as a Democrat. Despite enjoying the support of Democratic leaders, Specter faced a primary challenge from Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak.
Pennsylvania Democrats had a difficult time getting behind Specter, questioning his loyalty to the party after being a Republican for so long. This uncertainty on the part of voters cost Specter his career, as Sestak defeated him at the polls. In the election, Republican Pat Toomey defeated Sestak.
After leaving office in January 2011, Specter accepted a position at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he taught a course on the relationship between Congress and the Supreme Court. He passed away in October 2012.
Specter To Switch Parties (by Chris Cillizza, Washington Post)
Arlen Specter's Party Switch Haunts Him in Primary Campaign (by Paul Kane,
In Pa. Primary, Arlen Specter Bows To Joe Sestak (by Kathy Kiely, USA Today)
Specter Going To Law School (by Alexander Mooney, CNN)
Senate Bill Gives President Emergency Control of the Internet
Civil libertarians, telecommunications companies, and Internet service providers were alarmed by a 2009 bill making its way in the Senate that authorized the president to shut down the Internet.
The bill would have allowed the president to declare a cyber-security emergency and closed down access to private sector computers.
Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) introduced the bill because, they said, it was a matter of national security. “We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs—from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records,” Rockefeller said.
Following the outcry, Rockefeller and Snowe revised the legislation with the aim of improving the cyber-security infrastructure. But some observers insisted the new version was still unacceptable and would still have granted the president too much power over the Internet.
S.773 did not go very far in the Senate and eventually died.
Bill Would Give President Emergency Control of Internet (by Declan McCullagh, CNET)
Obama 'Internet Kill Switch' Plan Approved by US Senate Panel (by Grant Gross, Tech World)
Bill to Give Obama (and Future Presidents) Right to Shut Down Internet is Back in Congress (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Umm… Actually Obama Doesn’t Want to Take Over The Internet (by Nicholas Thompson, Wired)
S. 773 (111th): Cybersecurity Act of 2010 (Govtrack.us)
Senator Stevens Convicted for Covering up Gifts
The late Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator and a figure in Alaska politics since before statehood, was convicted in October 2008 on seven counts of failing to disclose thousands of dollars in services he received from a company that helped renovate his home. Stevens—the first sitting U.S. senator to face federal indictment since 1993, and the first to be convicted of a crime since 1981—had been dogged by a federal investigation into his home renovation project and whether he pushed for fishing legislation that also benefited his son, an Alaska lobbyist. All seven false statement counts related to statements he made on financial disclosure forms from 1999 to 2006. The indictment said Stevens “knowingly and intentionally sought to conceal and cover up his receipt of things of value by filing Financial Disclosure Forms that contained false statements and omissions.” Eight days after his conviction, Stevens narrowly lost his re-election bid. In April 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder dropped all charges against Stevens after discovery of prosecutorial misconduct. Stevens died in August 2010 in a plane crash.
Senator spars with prosecutor (by Erika Bolstad and Richard Mauer, Anchorage Daily News)
All for a Brookstone Massage Chair? (by Charles Homan, Slate)
Ted Stevens indicted, longest-serving GOP senator (by Lara Jakes Jordan, Associated Press)
Ted Stevens' charges dismissed as judge excoriates prosecutors (by James Oliphant, Los Angeles Times)
Prosecutors Hid Evidence In Ted Stevens Case (by Carrie Johnson, NPR)
Senate GOP Leader Lott Steps Aside after Racially Insensitive Remark
Senate Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi provoked considerable criticism in December 2002 by saying the United States would have been better off if former-segregationist candidate Strom Thurmond had won the presidency in 1948. Speaking at a 100th birthday party and retirement celebration for Sen. Thurmond (R-South Carolina), Lott said, “I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.”
Thurmond, then governor of South Carolina, was the presidential nominee of the breakaway State’s Rights Party in 1948. He carried Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and his home state. During his campaign against Democrat Harry S. Truman, who supported civil rights legislation, and Republican Thomas Dewey, Thurmond declared, “All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches.”
Lott's office played down the significance of the senator's remarks. Spokesman Ron Bonjean issued a two-sentence statement: “Senator Lott's remarks were intended to pay tribute to a remarkable man who led a remarkable life. To read anything more into these comments is wrong.”
Three days later, Lott issued a written apology for his comment. “A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embraced the discarded policies of the past,” Lott said. “Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.”
The apology was too little too late. On December 20, Lott was forced to resign his leadership post after many of his GOP colleagues in the Senate, and President George W. Bush, withdrew their support.
Lott apologizes for Thurmond comment (by John Mercurio, CNN)
Lott Decried For Part Of Salute to Thurmond (by Thomas B. Edsall, Washington Post)
GOP Senator Jeffords Switches Sides, Gives Democrats Control
In May 2001, Sen. James Jeffords (R-Vermont) left the Republican Party and became an independent, throwing control of the Senate to the Democratic Party for the first time since 1994. Republicans tried to convince the longtime GOP senator to remain in the party by offering him a new moderate leadership position, but Jeffords chose to bolt.
Jeffords changed the Senate composition from 50-50 (with a Republican Vice President Dick Cheney serving as President of the Senate to break tie votes) to 49 Republicans, 50 Democrats, and one independent. Jeffords voted for Democratic control after being promised a committee chairmanship by Democratic Leader Tom Daschle. He was given the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Jeffords’ defection was a long time coming, after finding himself often at odds with more conservative Republicans. In 1981, Jeffords was the sole Republican in the House of Representatives to vote against President Ronald Reagan’s tax-cut proposal. Ten years later, when Clarence Thomas was nominated for the Supreme Court, Jeffords voted against the appointment.
James Jeffords (by Jessica Reaves, Time)
Make It Easier to Confirm Nominations
With President Barack Obama’s nominations piling up in the Senate, Democrats have called for changes to the confirmation process in order to end the stonewalling by Republicans.
Some Republicans have even said it’s time for the Senate to change its rules. But exactly how is up for debate. Members of both parties are fearful of weakening the filibuster, while rhetorically committing to making it easier for noncontroversial judicial and executive branch nominees to be confirmed.
One discussion has focused on eliminating a senator’s power to place secret holds on the confirmation of a nominee (or to keep legislation from moving forward).
By January 2013, with 33 pending nominees, 83 federal judicial seats remained vacant and 22 future vacancies were looming. in large part because the Senate’s inability to confirm Obama’s choices.
The president offered up his own solution: Change the Senate rules to require that judicial and executive nominees receive a confirmation hearing within 90 days of a White House announcement. In the meantime, a watered-down version of filibuster reforms, agreed to in the Senate in late January 2013, included limiting the debate time for district court nominations.
Senate Makes Headway on Reforms (by Scott Wong and Manu Raju, Politico)
A Proposal to Reform the Process for Confirming Justices of the United States Supreme Court (by Arthur S. Leonard, Journal of Civil Rights and Economic Development)
Fix Confirmation Process (The Register Guard)
Federal Judicial Vacancies (JudicialNominations.org)
Senate Leaders Finalize Scaled-Back Filibuster Deal (by Sahil Kapur, TPM)
Various Ideas for Filibuster Reform
Many observers as well as politicians feel the U.S. Senate is “broken.” Too often the Senate can’t get any real business done, whether it’s voting on controversial legislation or approving presidential appointees. The roadblock is overuse of the filibuster.
Filibusters used to be a rare tactic employed by the minority party. But in recent years, it’s become a common weapon. In fact, there have been more filibusters since 2006 than the total between 1920 and 1980, according to Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico).
Udall proposed in 2010 that his colleagues change the rules by which the Senate operates every two years—and to make this change possible with only a majority of senators. A majority vote would be dramatic change, considering that it takes 60 votes now to stop a filibuster.
Udall was eventually joined by Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), and the reform package expanded to include expediting motions to proceed, ending secret holds and requiring “talking” filibusters (meaning a senator had to take the floor and remain there, speaking, to keep a filibuster alive).
By 2012, the reforms had still not been adopted. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) lamented his decision to stonewall the changes, calling it “wrong” and “a shame.”
Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) finally agreed to minor changes to filibuster rules in late January 2013. The agreement included limiting the debate time for district court nominations and sub-cabinet posts.
How to Reform the U.S. Senate (Senator Tom Udall)
A Single Shot at Senate Reform (by Ezra Klein, Washington Post)
Merkley Lays Out A Course For Reforming The Filibuster In The Next Senate: ‘Mark This Date On Your Calendar’ (by Zaid Jilani, Think Progress)
After Health Care, We Need Senate Reform (Ezra Klein, Washington Post)
What’s Become of Senate Reform (by Steve Benen, Washington Monthly)
Harry Reid: Filibuster Rule Has 'Been Abused,' Needs Changing (by Jennifer Bendery, Huffington Post)
Harry Reid Puts Nuclear Option in Back Pocket (by Alexander Bolton, The Hill)
Senate Leaders Finalize Scaled-Back Filibuster Deal (by Sahil Kapur, TPM)
Reforming the Confirmation Process
In addition to concerns over the confirmation of judicial nominees, many observers have remarked that the Senate needs to reform its entire confirmation process—for judges and federal departments. Many argue that, over time, the process has been cumbersome, replete with excess questioning and reviewing.
The Brookings Institution pointed out that the presidential appointments process was designed to maintain a delicate balance between recruiting talented citizens to service and preventing corruption. This delicate balance between promoting merit and preventing corruption has held throughout American history, but the appointments process itself has come under increasing strain as the layers of government have grown thicker and the procedure for confirmation more complex.
“Today's invasive and time-consuming confirmation process has produced long delays in staffing, continual administrative vacancies, efforts to circumvent Congressional confirmation, and a reluctance on the part of many talented citizens to serve in the national government. As the administrative bureaucracy has expanded, the effort to ensure merit (or, considered less charitably, to avoid scandal) by scrutinizing each and every nominee has dealt serious harm to the effective functioning of government,” wrote the think tank in a report.
The institute recommended reducing the number of appointments to “restore sanity” to the presidential appointments process. “Congress and the president could easily streamline the financial and information disclosure process, at a minimum making all forms available on-line, while giving the White House adequate staff to handle the crush of nominations at the start of the term.”
“Reformers could also reduce the number of nominations subject to FBI full-field investigations and Senate hearings. Does the nation really need to know about the last 15 years of foreign travel of its assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development? Do we really need a full Senate committee hearing for the assistant secretary for intergovernmental relations at the Department of Labor?”
The report also touched on the sensitive issue of changing Senate rules with regards to filibusters, claiming, “The Senate could also limit the use of holds on nominations to a maximum of 14 days, and require up or down votes on nominations within 60 days of submission.”
Our Tottering Confirmation Process (by Paul C. Light, Brookings Institution)
Budget Reconciliation Reform
With the adoption of the healthcare reform law, Republicans and political observers decried the use of the budget reconciliation procedure and called for changes to the Senate rule.
Created in 1974 as a way of making changes in federal policy, the budget reconciliation rule allows the majority party to bypass filibuster obstruction by senators in the minority. When considering legislation under this procedure, Senate debate is limited to only 20 hours, the filibuster cannot be employed, and the measure needs only a majority vote to pass.
Over the last four decades, the party controlling the Senate (both Democrats and Republicans) has made major policy changes through reconciliation. Democrats turned to the procedure to get President Barack Obama’s controversial healthcare reform bill through the Senate.
Even though the GOP has used reconciliation in the past, conservatives demanded changes to the rule after Democrats got the healthcare reform law to Obama for signature.
One suggestion involved limiting reconciliation to measures that only reduce the federal deficit. Other proposed changes called for opening up the process to longer debates and allowing a wider range of amendments.
Let's Make a Filibuster Deal (by Mark Schmitt, The American Prospect)
Budget Reconciliation (by David M. Herszenhorn, New York Times)
Reconciling with the Past (by Thomas E. Mann, Norman J. Ornstein, Raffaela Wakeman and Fogelson-Lubliner, New York Times)
Ending Judicial Filibusters
During the first term of President George W. Bush’s administration, Democrats in the Senate were in the minority from 2003 to 2007. Unable to control the Senate agenda, Democrats turned to the filibuster to hold up the confirmation of numerous judicial appointments by President Bush, fearing too many conservative justices on the federal bench. By employing this tactic, the Senate was unable to vote on these nominees, provoking frustration, and later, outrage by officials in the administration and among Senate Republicans and conservative constituents.
Fed up with the Democrats’ maneuvering, then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) came up with a radical plan to end the blockade on judicial nominees. Senate rules permit unlimited debate unless 60 senators agree to stop talking and move to a vote. Republicans at the time held a 55-seat majority. Frist’s plan was to change the Standing Rules of the Senate so that filibusters could no longer apply to nomination hearings, only legislation.
Frist’s plan, if implemented, would have rendered Senate Democrats almost powerless to stop President Bush’s choices, including nominees to the Supreme Court. In response to the threat, Democrats warned that their response would be to use Senate rules to bring the chamber’s work to a complete halt. Thus, people inside and outside the Senate began calling Frist’s plan the “nuclear option,” because it would have essentially destroyed the ability of the Senate to perform any work.
After a lot of posturing and threats by both sides, Frist ultimately decided not to employ the “nuclear option.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) finally agreed to minor changes to filibuster rules in late January 2013. The agreement included limiting the debate time for district court nominations and sub-cabinet posts.
According to Frist, senators should not be allowed to use filibusters to delay judicial nominations. The Republican majority argued that it was not establishing a new precedent—they were simply trying to restore the rights of the Constitution and the practices that the Senate had observed for over 200 years.
If the Senate allowed the filibusters of judicial nominations to continue, it would have been acquiescing to the minority's unilateral change to Senate procedure and practices. Requiring 60 votes for the confirmation of judges undermined the Constitution's requirement for a 51-vote majority, the GOP insisted.
Republicans also pointed out the hypocrisy of Democrats in recalling an attempt in the mid 1990s. In 1995 Democratic Senators Joe Lieberman and Tom Harkin pushed for a plan that would have ended all filibusters in the Senate, affecting both confirmation hearings and legislation. The move came at a time when Senate Republicans were holding up nominees of Democratic President Bill Clinton.
Unlike the attempts by Democrats to end all filibusters, the 2005 effort by Senate Republicans was limited to the judicial confirmation process. As Frist put it, “If I must act to bring fairness back to the judicial nomination process, I will not act in any way to impact the rights of colleagues when it comes to legislation.”
Religious conservatives who supported Bush’s nominees went on a public campaign arguing that the Democratic filibusters represented an attack on people of faith.
According to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York), the Republican plan would have turned the Senate, “everything all of us have worked for and worked in, into a legislative wasteland.” Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) remarked, “In order to break down the separation of powers and ram through their appointees to the judicial branch, President Bush and the Republican leadership want to eliminate a 200-year-old American rule saying that every member of the Senate can rise to say their piece and speak on behalf of the people who sent them here.”
Democrats and their supporters stressed that the Senate must follow its own rules when carrying out advice and consent responsibilities. The filibuster rules were designed to protect the interests of the minority party by creating an incentive for majority senators to reach out for compromise rather than adopting a winner-take-all approach. The result of compromise was almost always better government, they said.
Because each state has two senators regardless of its population, Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, noted that “Democratic senators represent a majority of the population, but they are a minority in the Senate. The filibuster in part is a reflection of that—the way in which senators who represent the majority can act as a check on the majority of senators who represent a minority of the population.”
Democrats also pointed out that they had allowed more than 200 of President Bush’s nominees to be approved during his first term. Furthermore, during Bill Clinton's presidency, the Republican majority blocked dozens of the president’s nominees from ever getting to the floor, bottling up some 60 of them in committee, revealing the GOP’s own hypocrisy in the matter.
Everything you wanted to know about the "nuclear option" (by Tim Grieve, Salon)
A Judicious Compromise (by David Broder, Washington Post)
Cheney Backs End of Filibustering (by David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times)
Filibuster Rules: Then & Now (by Sean Rushton, National Review Online)
Judicial Wars (by Kwame Holman, Online NewsHour)
Senate Leaders Finalize Scaled-Back Filibuster Deal (by Sahil Kapur, TPM)
Richard (Dick) Cheney (Presidency of George W. Bush)
Albert A. Gore, Jr. (Presidency of William Clinton)
J. Danforth Quayle (Presidency of George H.W. Bush)
George H.W. Bush (Presidency of Ronald Reagan)
Walter F. Mondale (Presidency of Jimmy Carter)
Nelson A. Rockefeller (Presidency of Gerald Ford)
Note: Following succession to the presidency after the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974, Gerald Ford nominated Nelson Rockefeller as vice president, as prescribed by the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Rockefeller took the oath of office in the Senate chamber on December 19, 1974. Television cameras that had been recently installed in the Senate chamber in anticipation of a possible impeachment trial of Richard Nixon were instead used to televise the swearing in of Vice President Rockefeller. This marked the first time television cameras had been allowed in the Senate chamber.
Gerald R. Ford (Presidency of Richard Nixon)
Term: 1973-1974; succeeded to presidency on August 9, 1974; vice presidency remained vacant until December 19, 1974.
Note: Lyndon Johnson's succession to the presidency in 1963 following the assassination of John F. Kennedy left the vice presidency vacant for the 16th time in U.S. history. To avoid such a vacancy in the future, Congress passed and the states ratified the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1967, allowing for the appointment and confirmation of a new vice president if such a vacancy occurs. Gerald Ford became the first Vice President to be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Congress pursuant to the Twenty-fifth Amendment. Ford took the oath of office as vice president on December 6, 1973, and served until August 9, 1974, when he succeeded to the presidency.
Spiro T. Agnew (Presidency of Richard Nixon)
Term: 1969-1973; resigned on October 10, 1973; vice presidency remained vacant until December 6, 1973.
Hubert H. Humphrey (Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson)
Lyndon B. Johnson (Presidency of John Kennedy)
Term: 1961-1963; succeeded to presidency on November 22, 1963; vice presidency remained vacant until 1965.
Richard M. Nixon (Presidency of Dwight Eisenhower)
Alben W. Barkley (Presidency of Harry Truman)
Harry S. Truman (Presidency of Franklin Roosevelt)
Term: 1945; succeeded to presidency on April 12, 1945; vice presidency remained vacant until 1949.
Henry A. Wallace (Presidency of Franklin Roosevelt)
John Nance Garner (Presidency of Franklin Roosevelt)
Charles Curtis (Presidency of Herbert C. Hoover)
Charles G. Dawes (Presidency of Calvin Coolidge)
Calvin Coolidge (Presidency of Warren G. Harding)
Term: 1921-1923; succeeded to presidency on August 3, 1923; vice presidency remained vacant until 1925.
Thomas R. Marshall (Presidency of Woodrow Wilson)
James S. Sherman (Presidency of William H. Taft)
Term: 1909-1912; died in office on October 30, 1912; vice presidency remained vacant until 1913.
Charles W. Fairbanks (Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt)
Theodore Roosevelt (Presidency of William McKinley)
Term: 1901; succeeded to presidency on September 14, 1901; vice presidency remained vacant until 1905.
Garret A. Hobart (Presidency of William McKinley)
Term: 1897-1899; died in office on November 21, 1899; vice presidency remained vacant until 1901.
Adlai E. Stevenson (Presidency of Grover Cleveland—second)
Levi P. Morton (Presidency of Benjamin Harrison)
Thomas A. Hendricks (Presidency of Grover Cleveland—first)
Term: 1885; died in office on November 25, 1885; vice presidency remained vacant until 1889.
Chester A. Arthur (Presidency of James A. Garfield)
Term: 1881; succeeded to presidency on September 20, 1881; vice presidency remained vacant until 1885.
William A. Wheeler (Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes)
Henry Wilson (Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant)
Term: 1873-1875; died in office on November 22, 1875; vice presidency remained vacant until 1877.
Schuyler Colfax (Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant)
Andrew Johnson (Presidency of Abraham Lincoln)
Term: 1865; succeeded to presidency on April 15, 1865; vice presidency remained vacant until 1869.
Note: Johnson was a War Democrat, who ran on a fusion ticket with Republican President Abraham Lincoln.
Hannibal Hamlin (Presidency of Abraham Lincoln)
John C. Breckinridge (Presidency of James Buchanan)
William Rufus King (Presidency of Franklin Pierce)
Term: 1853; died in office April 18, 1853; vice presidency remained vacant until 1857.
Millard Fillmore (Presidency of Zachary Taylor)
Term: 1849-1850; succeeded to presidency on July 10, 1850; vice presidency remained vacant until 1853.
George Mifflin Dallas (Presidency of James K. Polk)
John Tyler (Presidency of William H. Harrison)
Term: 1841; succeeded to presidency on April 6, 1841; vice presidency remained vacant until 1845.
Note: Although Tyler ran on the Whig ticket, he remained a Democrat throughout his life.
Richard Mentor Johnson (Presidency of Martin Van Buren)
Note: Since no vice-presidential candidate received a majority of the electoral vote in the 1836 election, the Senate elected Richard M. Johnson as vice president on February 8, 1837. Johnson's election is the only time the Senate has exercised this constitutional authority, granted by the 12th Amendment, which provides, “if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President.”
Martin Van Buren (Presidency of Andrew Jackson)
Note: The Democratic Party was not yet formally created during Jackson's two terms as president but developed later from his supporters.
John C. Calhoun (Presidency of Andrew Jackson)
Term: 1829-1832; resigned December 28, 1832; vice presidency remained vacant until 1833.
John C. Calhoun (Presidency of John Quincy Adams)
Party: National Republican
Note: All the presidential candidates in 1824 were Republicans—although of varying persuasions—and Calhoun had support for the vice presidency from both the Adams and Jackson camps. As no presidential candidate received the necessary majority of electoral votes, the House of Representatives made the decision. Calhoun, however, received a clear majority (182 of 260) of the vice-presidential electoral votes.
Daniel D. Tompkins (Presidency of James Monroe)
Note: By 1820 the Federalist Party was defunct, and a period of party realignment began that continued until 1840 when the Whig and Democratic parties became established. In the interim, party affiliations underwent considerable flux. For much of that time, the split fell between the supporters and opponents of Andrew Jackson. The pro-Jackson forces evolved into the Democratic party and those opposing Jackson eventually coalesced into the Whig party.
Elbridge Gerry http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/elbridge_gerry.pdf(Presidency of James Madison)
Term: 1813-1814; died in office November 23, 1814; vice presidency remained vacant until 1817.
George Clinton (Presidency of James Madison)
Term: 1809-1812; died in office April 20, 1812; vice presidency remained vacant until 1813.
George Clinton (Presidency of Thomas Jefferson)
Aaron Burr (Presidency of Thomas Jefferson)
Note: In the nation's early years, electors did not differentiate between their votes for president and vice president, and the runner-up for president became vice president. In 1800 Jefferson and Burr each received 73 electoral votes, thus sending the election to the House of Representatives, which selected Jefferson as president. Burr automatically became vice president. This stalemate led to adoption of the 12th Amendment to the Constitution in 1804.
Thomas Jefferson (Presidency of John Adams)
Note: Jefferson ran against Adams for president. Since he received the second highest electoral vote, he automatically became vice president under the system that existed at the time. "Republican" refers to two different parties widely separated in time: Jeffersonian Republicans of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the present Republican Party, which was founded in the 1850s.
John Adams (Presidency of George Washington)
Former Presidents Pro Tempore
Robert C. Byrd (West Virginia) (1989-1995; 2001-2003; 2007-2010)
According to the U.S. Senate Web site: “From January 3 to January 20, 2001 the Democrats held the majority, due to the deciding vote of outgoing Democratic Vice President Al Gore. Senator Robert C. Byrd became president pro tempore at that time. Starting January 20, 2001, the incoming Republican Vice President Richard Cheney held the deciding vote, giving the majority to the Republicans. Senator Strom Thurmond resumed his role as president pro tempore. On May 24, 2001, Senator James Jeffords of Vermont announced his switch from Republican to Independent status, effective June 6, 2001. Jeffords announced that he would caucus with the Democrats, changing control of the evenly divided Senate from the Republicans to the Democrats. On June 6, 2001, Robert C. Byrd once again became president pro tempore. On that day, the Senate adopted S. Res. 103, designating Senator Thurmond as President Pro Tempore Emeritus.”
Theodore “Ted” Stevens (Alaska) (2003-2007)
Strom Thurmond (South Carolina) (1981-1987; 1995-2001; 2001; 2001-2003)
John C. Stennis (Mississippi) (1987-1989)
Milton R. Young (North Dakota) (1980) Young was president pro tempore for one day, December 5, 1980.
Warren G. Magnuson (Washington) (1979-1980; 1980-1981)
James O. Eastland (Mississippi) (1975-1978)
Allen J. Ellender (Louisiana) (1971-1972)
Richard B. Russell, Jr. (Georgia) (1969-1971)
Carl T. Hayden (Arizona) (1957-1969)
Walter F. George (Georgia) (1955-1957)
Styles Bridges (New Hampshire) (1953-1955)
Arthur Vandenberg (Michigan) (1947-1949)
Kenneth D. McKellar (Tennessee) (1945-1947; 1949-1953)
Carter Glass (Virginia) (1941-1945)
Pat Harrison (Mississippi) (1941)
William H. King (Utah) (1940-1941)
Key Pittman (Nevada) (1933-1940)
George H. Moses (New Hampshire) (1925-1933)
Albert B. Cummins (Iowa) (1919-1925)
Willard Saulsbury, Jr. (Delaware) (1916-1919)
James P. Clarke (Arkansas) (1913-1916)
Henry Cabot Lodge (Massachusetts) (1912) Lodge was president pro tempore for one day, May 25, 1912.
Frank B. Brandegee (Connecticut) (1912)
Jacob H. Gallinger (New Hampshire) (1912; 1912-1913)
Charles Curtis (Kansas) (1911)
Augustus O. Bacon (Georgia) (1911; 1912; 1913)
William P. Frye (Maine) (1896-1911)
According to the U.S. Senate Web site: “William Frye resigned as president pro tempore due to ill health and died on August 8, 1911. Electing his successor proved difficult for the Senate, since Senate Republicans, then in the majority, split between the progressive and the 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. During May and June of 1911, ballot after ballot failed to elect a president pro tempore. Finally, desperate to return to regular business, senators agreed to a compromised solution: 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 62nd Congress.”
Matt W. Ransom (North Carolina) (1895)
Isham G. Harris (Tennessee) (1893-1895; 1895)
Charles F. Manderson (Nebraska) (1891-1893)
John J. Ingalls (Kansas) (1887-1891)
John Sherman (Ohio) (1885-1887)
George F. Edmunds (Vermont) (1883-1885)
David Davis (Illinois) (1881-1883)
Thomas F. Bayard, Sr. (Delaware) (1881)
Allen G. Thurman (Ohio) (1879-1880)
Thomas W. Ferry (Michigan) (1877-1879)
Matthew H. Carpenter (Wisconsin) (1873-1875)
Henry B. Anthony (Rhode Island) (1869-1873; 1875)
Benjamin F. Wade (Ohio) (1867-1869)
Lafayette S. Foster (Connecticut) (1865-1867)
Daniel Clark (New Hampshire) (1865)
Solomon Foot (Vermont) (1861-1864)
Benjamin Fitzpatrick (Alabama) (1857-1860; 1860)
Jesse D. Bright (Indiana) (1854-1856; 1856-1857; 1860)
Thomas J. Rusk (Texas) (1857)
James M. Mason (Virginia) (1857)
Charles E. Stuart (Michigan) (1856)
Lewis Cass (Michigan) (1854) Cass served as president pro tempore for one day on December 4, 1854.
David R. Atchison (Missouri) (1846-1849; 1852-1854)
William R. King (Alabama) (1836-1841; 1850-1852)
Ambrose H. Sevier (Arkansas) (1845) Sevier served as president pro tempore for one day, on December 27, 1845.
Willie P. Mangum (North Carolina) (1842-1845)
Samuel Southard (New Jersey) (1842)
John Tyler (Virginia) (1835)
George Poindexter (Mississippi) (1834)
Hugh L. White (Tennessee) (1832-1833)
Littleton Tazewell (Virginia) (1832)
Samuel Smith (Maryland) (1805-1808; 1829-1831)
Nathaniel Macon (North Carolina) (1826-1827)
John Gaillard (South Carolina) (1810; 1814-1819; 1820-1825)
James Barbour (Virginia) (1819)
Joseph B. Varnum (Massachusetts) (1813-1814)
William H. Crawford (Georgia) (1812-1813)
John Pope (Kentucky) (1811)
Andrew Gregg (Pennsylvania) (1809)
John Milledge (Georgia) (1809)
Stephen R. Bradley (Vermont) (1802-1803; 1808-1809)
Joseph Anderson (Tennessee) (1805)
Jesse Franklin (North Carolina) (1804)
John Brown (Kentucky) (1803-1804)
Abraham Baldwin (Georgia) (1801-1802)
James Hillhouse (Connecticut) (1801)
John E. Howard (Maryland) (1800)
Uriah Tracy (Connecticut) (1800)
James Ross (Pennsylvania) (1799)
John Laurance (New York) (1798)
Theodore Sedgwick (Massachusetts) (1798)
Jacob Read (South Carolina) (1797)
William Bradford (Rhode Island) (1797)
William Bingman (Pennsylvania) (1797)
Samuel Livermore (New Hampshire) (1796)
Henry Tazewell (Virginia) (1795)
Ralph Izard (South Carolina) (1794)
Richard Henry Lee (Virginia) (1792)
John Langdon (New Hampshire) (1789; 1792-1793)
Joe Biden is a prime example of perseverance. Having endured personal tragedy, survived a near-death episode, and overcome more than a few political mistakes, Biden’s four-decade career as a US senator has now brought him to the White House as vice president.
The Senate has a new Number Two man. With the death on December 17 of Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who had served in the upper chamber since 1963, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) succeeded to the office of President Pro Tempore (pro tem) of the Senate. Sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden on December 17, Leahy wielded the gavel during the recent lame duck session that avoided the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the end of 2012.
An office created by the Constitution, the President pro tem (Latin meaning “for the time being”) of the Senate is the Senate’s second-highest-ranking official, after the Vice President. Under the Constitution, the Vice President is also the President of the Senate, and the Senate must choose a president pro tem to run things in the VP’s absence. By long-standing tradition the Senate unanimously elects the most senior senator in the majority party to be the president pro tem. The president pro tem is third in the line of succession to the presidency, after the Vice President and the Speaker of the House.
Born March 31, 1940, in Montpelier, Vermont, Patrick Joseph Leahy is the son Alba (née Zambon) and Howard Francis Leahy, a printer. His grandparents had immigrated to Vermont from Italy and Ireland during the 19th century to work at the state’s stone quarries. Growing up across from the Vermont Statehouse, Leahy graduated from St. Michael’s High School in Montpelier in 1957. He earned a B.A. in Political Science at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, in 1961 and a J.D. at Georgetown University in 1964.
Admitted to the Vermont Bar in 1964, Leahy practiced law for two years before successfully running for State’s Attorney in Chittenden County, where he served two four-year terms.
Elected to the Senate at age 34 in 1974, Leahy was the youngest U.S. Senator ever elected from Vermont. He is also the first and only Democrat Vermonters have ever sent to the Senate, although not the most left-wing, as socialist Bernie Sanders has served as Vermont’s junior Senator since 2007.
At present, Leahy is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the most senior member of the Appropriations Committee and a senior member of the Agriculture Committee. Leahy has generally served as one of the more liberal members of the Senate, which is in keeping with the political preferences of Vermont voters. A Catholic, Leahy nevertheless supports gay rights and opposes attempts to limit abortion rights.
An advocate of privacy rights, Leahy has supported information privacy and open government. In 2006, Leahy was one of only 10 senators who voted against the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act, a bill to extend the USA PATRIOT Act. He is also the chief sponsor of the Innocence Protection Act, which addresses flaws in the administration of capital punishment.
Leahy was one of two senators targeted in the 2001 anthrax attacks, along with South Dakota Democrat Tom Daschle.
In one of the highlights of his career, Leahy’s Judiciary Committee probe into the mass firings of U.S. Attorneys as part of a White House strategy to exert political influence over the Justice Department (DOJ) led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and DOJ’s entire top tier of George W. Bush political appointees in 2008.
Leahy is a big fan of the Batman comic books and movies—he even had small parts in three of the recent Hollywood movies—and also of the Grateful Dead, members of which have performed at Leahy fundraisers, with Leahy joining them onstage.
Leahy met his wife, Marcelle Pomerleau, while both were earning their degrees at St. Michael’s, and they married in 1962. They have a daughter, two sons, and five grandchildren. The Leahys live on a tree farm in Middlesex, Vermont.
- Matt Bewig
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Roll Call)