Inouye succeeds Byrd as Senate president pro-tempore
By Paul Kane
Following the death of Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the most senior member of the Senate, will be sworn in as president pro-tempore of the Senate, placing him third in the line of succession to become president.
Inouye will be formally sworn in once the chamber opens for business Monday, at 2 p.m. EDT, in a service just steps away from the long-time desk of Inouye's close friend, Byrd, who died at 3 a.m. Monday. Staff have already draped a black mohair cloth over Byrd's desk, placing white roses atop it, a standard symbol of mourning when a senator dies while in office.
As pro-tem, Inouye becomes a constitutional officer with a small staff. By tradition, the post goes to the most senior member of the majority party in the Senate. He will oversee the chamber, gaveling it into session every morning and overseeing the most important of roll-call votes. In the last 100 years, the position has become dwarfed by the party floor leaders, who run the daily events of the Senate.
Some congressional experts have called for an abolition of the position, particularly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Or at least a reworking of which senator is given the post.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Byrd wandered out onto the East Capitol lawn by himself after the Capitol was evacuated, as reporters asked him if he -- given his line of succession status -- knew what was happening. Later, Byrd, 83 at the time, was whisked away by Capitol Police, and ever since the pro-tem has been given a security detail.
In the last 16 years, the pro-tem position has alternated among three men: Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who held the post in his 90s and surrendered it in late 2002 after his 100th birthday; Byrd, who grew ill enough that he surrendered most of the duties of the job the past four years; and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who had perfect health into in his mid-80s but found himself under a federal criminal investigation in his last days as pro-temp.
Inouye, who will turn 86 in September, has not had any public health problems. Already chairman of the Appropriations Committee -- a post from which he also succeeded Byrd -- Inouye is running for re-election in November. First elected in 1962, he is now the second longest serving senator in history, trailing only Byrd. He passed Thurmond for length of service earlier this month.
Here is Inouye's statement on Byrd:
"My heart is heavy with sadness following the passing of a dear friend, Robert C. Byrd, Senator from West Virginia.
We have been friends for nearly 50 years and I am overcome with memories. Nearly 48 years ago Senator Byrd was one of the first to greet me in the chamber of the United States Senate.
Since that first moment of friendship we have worked together on many projects. And since those early days, I have called him, 'my leader.'
He was my mentor. Over the years he provided me countless opportunities and tasked me with positions of critical national oversight while guiding my actions with the temperance he learned as the longest serving Senator in history.
He was a Senator's Senator. His many accomplishments were historic and he fought tirelessly to improve the lives of working families in West Virginia. We shared the belief that we must provide for the people who trust us to represent their communities in Washington.
I owe much to my leader, Senator Byrd. He will forever have my gratitude and respect and I will miss him dearly. My thoughts and prayers are with the Byrd family during this difficult time."
June 28, 2010; 1:23 PM ET
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