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The President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate presides over the Senate in the absence of the Vice President. The term "pro tempore" means "for the time being" in Latin. This office is awarded to the senior member of the Senate's majority party. The president pro tempore is also third in line for the succession to the presidency, behind the Vice President and the Speaker of the House.

This office is an honored position, but it is not as powerful as it once was, because the president pro tempore was once only behind the Vice President in succession to the office of President. Also, other party leadership opportunities have developed for ambitious Senators, such as Senate Majority Leader.

In early American history, when a President had completed his two terms in office, his Vice President was most likely to run for office. That candidate would often choose as his Vice Presidential running mate the person who served as Secretary of State under the last President's administration. Thus the office of Secretary of State became a sort of pathway to becoming the President. This was the argument that caused Congress to completely remove the president pro tempore and the Speaker of the House from the line of succession for President in 1886. Harry Truman, a president by inheritance, proposed that those two offices be restored to the line of succession because the Secretary of State was an appointed (not elected) official. Truman's suggestion became law, and the line of succession to the President today stands at: Vice President, Speaker of the House, President Pro Tempore, Secretary of State, then all of the cabinet members in the order of creation of the departments they represent.

An interesting exchange of the office of President Pro Tempore happened in 2001. As of January 3, 2001, Bill Clinton was President, the Democratic Vice President was Al Gore and the Senate was split evenly down the middle between the parties. So, the Vice President's party alignment determined which party was the majority. With Al Gore presiding over the Senate, West Virginian Democrat Robert C. Byrd was the President Pro Tempore. On January 20, Republican Dick Cheney became the Vice President, so his party became the majority party and Strom Thurmond became president pro tempore. However, Republican Senator James Jeffords renounced his party to become an Independent. Thus, there were 50 Democratic senators, 49 Republicans, and 1 Independent. The Democrats were once again the majority party and Robert C. Byrd regained his status as president pro tempore. That day, Congress bestowed the title of President Pro Tempore Emeritus upon Strom Thurmond.

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