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President pro tempore of the United States Senate
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President pro tempore of the United States Senate

The United States Senate, according to the United States Constitution, (Article I), is required to choose a President Pro Tempore (or, "president for a time," often shortened to President Pro Tem), who presides over the Senate in the absence of the Vice President. Because of the smaller size of the Senate and because Senate rules of procedure give more power to individual senators, the President Pro Tem is not a powerful position especially in comparison to the Speaker of the House of Representatives or even the party leaders of the Senate.

In earlier times, when the Vice President usually presided over the Senate, a President pro tempore was chosen each time there was an absence. Since 1890, a sitting president pro tempore has been chosen. In 1945, the 79th Congress instituted the custom of giving the position to the longest-serving Senator from the majority party, which has prevailed since. Since the chairmanship of Senate committees is also determined by seniority and this is a more effective means for a Senator to exert influence, most days the Senate is in session it is a junior Senator designated by the President Pro Tem who actually calls the Senate to order with a request that his letter of designation be read.

Since 1947, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate has been third in line to succeed to the US presidency in the case of death or resignation, after the Vice-President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The current President Pro Tempore of the Senate is Ted Stevens of Alaska. Before the Republicans regained control of the Senate on November 5, 2002, the President Pro Tempore was Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Prior to the shift of James Jeffords from Republican to Independent in May 2001, which shifted control of the Senate from the Republican to the Democratic Party, the office was held by J. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.

Presidents pro Tempore of the United States Senate

1st Congress (1789-1791) 2nd Congress (1791-1793) 3rd Congress (1793-1795) 4th Congress (1795-1797) 5th Congress (1797-1799) 6th Congress (1799-1801) 7th Congress (1801-1803) 8th Congress (1803-1805) 9th Congress (1805-1807) 10th Congress (1807-1809) 11th Congress (1809-1811) 12th Congress (1811-1813) 13th Congress (1813-1815) 14th Congress (1815-1817) 15th Congress (1817-1819) 16th Congress (1819-1821) 17th Congress (1821-1823) 18th Congress (1823-1825) 19th Congress (1825-1827) 20th Congress (1827-1829) 21st Congress (1829-1831) 22nd Congress (1831-1833) 23rd Congress (1833-1835) 24th Congress (1835-1837) 25th Congress (1837-1839) 26th Congress (1839-1841) 27th Congress (1841-1843) 28th Congress (1843-1845) 29th Congress (1845-1847) 30th Congress (1847-1849) 31st Congress (1849-1851) 32nd Congress (1851-1853) 33rd Congress (1853-1855) 34th Congress (1855-1857) 35th Congress (1857-1859) \36th Congress (1859-1861) 37th Congress (1861-1863) 38th Congress (1863-1865) 39th Congress (1865-1867) 40th Congress (1867-1869) 41st Congress (1869-1871) '''42nd Congress (1871-1873) 43rd Congress (1873-1875) 44th Congress (1875-1877) 45th Congress (1877-1879) 46th Congress (1879-1881) 47th Congress (1881-1883) 48th Congress (1883-1885) 49th Congress (1885-1887) 50th Congress (1887-1889) 51st Congress (1889-1891) At this point, it was decided that presidents pro tempore should serve until a new one was elected. They were as follows:

on Frye's death, it proved difficult to elect a successor. For the remainder of the 62nd Congress (1911-1913), the position alternated among:

In the next Congress, things returned to normal: