Washington Sen. Patty Murray was sworn in as Senate president pro tempore Tuesday, the first woman in the country’s history to hold that role.
In the process Murray immediately, and temporarily, becomes the second person in line for the presidency.
Murray, recently elected to a sixth term, will also chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee in the newly begun 118th Congress, putting her in a key position to direct billions of dollars of federal spending.
The Senate president pro tem is typically the longest-serving senator from the majority party. The president pro tem presides over the Senate in the vice president’s absence, can administer Senate oaths of office, sign legislation and preside, with the House speaker, over joint sessions of Congress.
The position is third in line for the presidency, after the vice president and the House speaker. But there currently is no House speaker, with House Republicans unable, ballot after ballot, to muster a majority for any candidate. So Murray is second in line, by default.
Among other things, Murray also now becomes a member of a very select group of women: She is now tied with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, trailing only Vice President Kamala Harris, as the second closest a woman has ever been to the presidency, in the line of succession. When the House does elect a speaker, Murray will drop back to third in line.
“It’s not lost on me the significance of what it means to be the first woman to serve in this role,” Murray said. “This is another sign that slowly but surely, Congress is looking more like America.”
Murray, as she begins her 31st year in the Senate, is now the second-longest-serving female senator in history, trailing only her Democratic colleague, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein said last year she wasn’t interested in the president pro tem position.
“There is no one I trust more to be third in the line for presidential succession than Sen. Murray,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said in a floor speech Tuesday. “She is brilliant, pragmatic and knows how to get things done.”
This story will be updated.