Senator Patty Murray (’72 Phys. Ed.) is the first woman to serve as president pro tempore, making her third in the line of presidential succession.

In the role, Murray presides over the Senate in the absence of the vice president, though she isn’t able to cast a tie-breaking vote when the Senate is divided.

Closeup profile of US Senator Patty Murray of Washington state
Senator Patty Murray (Courtesy

The president pro tempore appoints the Senate legislative and legal counsel and the director of the Congressional Budget Office, and makes appointments to national commissions and advisory boards.

The president pro tempore can also assign other senators to perform the duties of the chair to give them more experience in Senate rules and procedures, administer the oath of office and other oaths required by the Constitution, sign legislation, and preside with the Speaker of the House when the houses are in joint sessions.

Traditionally, the most senior US senator in the majority party is chosen to hold the office. Senator Dianne Feinstein (California) joined the Senate just months before Murray did and was tapped to take the position, but declined. Senator Chuck Schumer (New York) then nominated Murray, the second-most-senior member. Murray was sworn in January 3 by Vice President Kamala Harris, who is also the first woman to serve in her role.

Murray is no stranger to firsts. In 1993, she became Washington’s first female US senator and has since served in the role for 30 years.

She is the second-longest-serving woman in the Senate.

Since 2001, Murray has served as chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Democratic Conference secretary, and assistant Democratic leader.

Before she was elected to the Washington State Senate in 1988, Murray was a preschool teacher and taught a parenting class at Shoreline Community College.


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A Seat at the Table: Senator Patty Murray ’72 (Summer 2009)