President Pro Tempore

As a follow-up to a prior post, I want to point out a constitutional oddity.  Article I states that the House of Representatives “shall choose their Speaker and other Officers” and that the Senate “shall choose their other officers, and also a President pro tempore.”  For much of our history, the Speaker of the House has been a strong political figure.  The President pro tempore of the Senate, by contrast, has never been important in the Senate.  Why did the office remain impotent, I wonder?

The Twenty Fifth Amendment also makes the President pro tempore (along with the Speaker) the officers who must receive communications regarding presidential disability. Now it is easy to see why you wouldn’t want the Vice-President to a responsible person (conflict-of-interest), but why not the Majority Leader?  By the 1960s, which is when the XXV Amendment was ratified, it was perfectly clear that the Majority Leader was the true leader of the Senate.  Worse still, the Majority Leader is still not in the line of presidential succession–the President Pro Tempore is.  It’s a weird setup.

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3 Responses

  1. Stefan Privin says:

    As originally passed in the Senate, the 25th Amendment referred to the “President of the Senate” receiving a declaration. The House changed that to “President pro tempore of the Senate”. Perhaps the House simply decided to designate the Senate officer mentioned in the Constitution, just as the Senate had done in designating the Speaker.

  2. Howard Wasserman says:

    Agreed. I think that’s the same reason the P/P/T is in the statutory line and not the Majority Leader–they wanted to use the constitutionally required officer, not the office created by the unilateral act of one house.

  3. mls says:

    The Majority Leader is not elected by the Senate, just by the members of his political party. He has a lot of de facto power, but very little in the way of legal status or authority. Putting him in the presidential line of succession would be a little like putting the chairpersons of the RNC and DNC in there.