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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Murray becomes Senate’s 1st female president pro tem

By Associated Press, The Columbian
Published: January 3, 2023, 6:48pm
2 Photos
Vice President Kamala Harris participates in a ceremonial swearing-in of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., with Murray's husband Rob Murray, in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023.
Vice President Kamala Harris participates in a ceremonial swearing-in of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., with Murray's husband Rob Murray, in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press) Photo Gallery

Washington Sen. Patty Murray made history Tuesday, becoming the first woman to serve as Senate president pro tempore. That position, which presides over the Senate in the absence of the vice president, is held by the senior-most member of the majority party. It also makes Murray third in line to the presidency. Murray succeeds Vermont Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy, who retired.

“It’s not lost on me the significance of what it means to be the first woman to serve in this role,” Murray said in brief remarks released afterward by her office. “This is another sign that slowly but surely, Congress is looking more like America …”

“But I want to talk a little bit about why today — my becoming the first woman president pro tem, after being sworn in by the first woman vice president — really matters.

“I remember before I ran for Senate, watching Anita Hill speak before the Senate Judiciary Committee — questioned by all male senators, because there were no women on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and all I could think to myself was ‘Those are not the questions I would have asked!’

Local Angle

Rep.-elect Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Stevenson, is in Washington, D.C., and ready to fulfill her official role once she takes the oath of office, a process that was delayed Tuesday for new members as the Republican majority battled to choose a speaker.

Perez has established offices in both Washington and Vancouver, and her official website is up. Those in the 3rd Congressional District can contact Perez at either her Vancouver office, 360-695-6292, or D.C. office, 202-225-3536, as well as by filling out an email form at gluesenkampperez.house.gov/contact.

A spokesperson for Perez said new congresswoman has not decided how much time she will spend between her Vancouver district office, 1053 Officers Row, and Washington, D.C., office, 1431 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Constituents may track Perez’s voting record and proposed legislation on her website throughout her term, as well as monitor upcoming events featuring Perez. The site also provides resources ranging from getting help contacting federal agencies, applying for grants or even requesting an American flag.

— Lauren Ellenbecker

“So watching those Anita Hill hearings was part of the reason I decided to run for the Senate to make a difference for my country — to change Congress and America for the better.

“I hope that when young women now see me in this position they see they can accomplish anything they set their mind to. I hope they see that they not only belong in Congress — but that their voices are needed here in Congress.”

The celebratory Senate proceedings were in marked contrast to the new Republican House majority across the Capitol, where Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is fighting to become speaker amid contentious internal strife in his own party. Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Party’s leader since 2007, easily dismissed a similar challenge from within after the November midterms, and, like Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, begins the new year with strong support from his caucus.

McConnell, 80, surpassed Montana Sen. Mike Mansfield’s record of 16 years as party leader. And Schumer, D-N.Y., cemented a legacy of his own after winning a second term as leader and also being sworn in as the longest-serving senator from New York. Democrats will go into the new Congress with a 51-49 majority, with newly Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema receiving her committee assignments from Democrats.

Similar to President Joe Biden, both Schumer and McConnell are opening the year pledging to work across the aisle — and all three will have to find ways to work with the new GOP House majority to keep government running. McConnell will make a rare appearance with Biden in his home state of Kentucky this week to highlight nearly $1 trillion in infrastructure spending that lawmakers approved on a bipartisan basis in 2021.

Claiming his party’s majority after senators were sworn in, Schumer said that party differences “do not absolve either side of the need to work together when the good of the country is on the line.”

“Whoever ends up becoming speaker of the House, I hope they will find a way to work with us in a productive way this Congress,” Schumer said, as McCarthy failed to secure a majority in three rounds of voting across the Capitol.

Praising the tenure of Mansfield, a Democrat who led his party from 1961 to 1977, the ever-restrained McConnell hinted in his speech at his own long-term strategy — a contrast to the bombast and chaos across the Capitol.

“There’ve been leaders who rose to the job through lower-key, behind-the-scenes styles; who preferred to focus on serving their colleagues rather than dominating them,” McConnell said, and that “is how Sen. Michael Joseph Mansfield of Montana became the longest-serving Senate leader in American history until this morning.”

Also Tuesday, the Senate swore in seven new members, five Republicans and two Democrats. Unlike the House, where the swearing in was delayed by the antagonistic fight over the speaker’s chair, the mood was jovial in the Senate. Family, friends and predecessors looked on as those freshmen, along with their new colleagues who won re-election, took an oath of office administered by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Senators clapped as Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat and Iraq War veteran who lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down in 2004, walked down the center aisle of the Senate to be sworn in instead of using her wheelchair — leaning on her Illinois colleague, Sen. Dick Durbin, for support.