Senator Murray Becomes First Woman President Pro Tempore

January 4, 2023

On Tuesday Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) became the first woman appointed President Pro Tempore, officially making two women—along with Vice President Harris—first and third in line to the Presidency for the first time ever in U.S. history.

With the House Speakership heading into a second day and a fourth round of voting on Wednesday, it remained unclear who would hold the position of second in the line of succession. Two women–Vice President Harris and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)–were first and second in line during the 117th Congress.

Murray was first elected to the Senate in 1992, dubbed the “year of the woman” when, in response to the treatment of attorney Anita Hill during the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, many women came to believe they did not have adequate representation in Congress. There were just two women in the Senate at the time.

The result of an influx of women running for office in 1992 was that the 103rd Congress which served from 1993 to 1995 included seven women Senators, including Murray, and 47 women in the House of Representatives. The current 118th Congress from 2023 to 2025 includes 25 women Senators and 124 women in the House of Representatives.

Pro tempore is a Latin term meaning “for the time being.” Murray’s new role is specified in the Constitution as a replacement for the Vice President, who also serves as the President of the Senate, when he or she cannot be present. In addition to opening the Senate on a daily basis, the President Pro Tempore has several lesser-known duties, including administering oaths, signing legislation and making appointments to various national commissions and advisory boards.

Until the Speakership is resolved, Murray will remain one step closer in the line of succession than is traditional. 

“It’s an obligation and an opportunity,” Murray said. “And I of course don’t ever want that day to come, but I have to be prepared for it.”

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