Who Is the President Pro Tempore of the U.S. Senate?

Role of the President Pro Tempore in the U.S. Senate

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch serves as the president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate. Brooks Kraft / Getty Images Contributor

The president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate is the highest-ranking elected member of the chamber but the second-highest ranking officer of the chamber. The president pro tempore presides over the chamber in the absence of the vice president, who is the highest-ranking officer in Congress' upper chamber. The current president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate is Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Writes the Senate Historical Office:

"Election of a senator to the office of president pro tempore has always been considered one of the highest honors offered to a senator by the Senate as a body. That honor has been bestowed upon a colorful and significant group of senators during the past two centuries — men who stamped their imprint on the office and on their times."

The term "pro tempore" is Latin for "for a time" or "for the time being." The powers of the president pro tempore are spelled out in the U.S. Constitution. 

President Pro Tempore Definition 

The president pro tempore has the power to administer oaths of office, sign legislation and "may fulfill all other obligations of the presiding officer," the Senate Historical Office states. "Unlike the vice president, however, the president pro tempore cannot vote to break a tie vote in the Senate. Also, in the absence of the vice president, the president pro tempore jointly presides with the speaker of the House when the two houses sit together in joint sessions or joint meetings."

The U.S. Constitution states that the position of Senate president must be filled by the vice president. The current vice president is Republican Mike Pence. During the legislative body's day to day business, however, the vice president is almost always absent, appearing only in case of a tie vote, a joint session of Congress or big events such as the State of the Union speech. 

Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution describes the pro tempore role. The full Senate elects the president pro tempore and the position is typically filled by the most senior senator in the majority party. The pro tempore is the equivalent to the speaker of the House of Representatives but with fewer powers. Thus, the Senate president pro tempore is almost always the highest-ranking official, though in cases of normal business, the president pro tempore appoints an acting president pro tempore which is typically a more junior Senator.

Except for the years from 1886 to 1947, the president pro tempore has been third in the line of succession after the U.S. vice president and the speaker of the House of Representatives.