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Murray becomes the first female president pro tempore in the Senate


WASHINGTON (AP) — When Senator Patty Murray of Washington was elected to the Senate in 1992, she says, male senators treated…

WASHINGTON (AP) — When Senator Patty Murray of Washington was elected to the Senate in 1992, she says, male senators treated her with some trepidation. But now she’s survived almost all of it to become the first woman to be named president pro tempore — a senior member of the majority who presides over the Senate and is third in line to the presidency.

Murray was elected in what was called the “year of the woman,” but when she came to the Senate, she found that there were very few women left.

“A lot has changed since I’ve been here,” Murray said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, while in her first few hours in the new position. “When I first came here, the men were like, oh my God, there’s a woman, what are we going to do? And we had to prove that we were just like them.”

Murray, 72, says she sees her own ascent to the post as another example of women’s slow, steady progression in the ever-old-fashioned Senate — not just as an example for young people, but as a platform for women’s issues, such as paid leave and childcare, which she has advocated for years. She first ran as a self-proclaimed “mom in tennis shoes,” and she still wears them to this day, like a grandmother.

She took up the post upon the retirement of Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who served in the Senate for nearly five decades and stood by her side as she was sworn in.

The president pro tempore, a Latin term for “provisional,” is specified in the constitution as replacing the vice president, who also serves as president of the senate, when he or she is unable to attend. In addition to opening the Senate on a daily basis, the president pro tempore has a number of lesser-known duties, such as taking oaths, signing legislation, and making appointments to various national committees and advisory boards.

Because of the pro tempore’s proximity to the presidency, he or she also has a phalanx of guards. Officers protected Murray as early as Tuesday, accompanying her from one part of her office to another as she used a public hallway to switch rooms.

“It’s different,” Murray said, “but I’ve been through a lot of changes in my life and I tend to just focus on what I need to do.”

On Tuesday, Murray was even closer to that presidential power—temporarily second in line, she noted, while the new GOP-led House was still figuring out who would be the speaker.

The often serious Murray says the job is a “massive responsibility”, and she has prepared for it, making sure she is aware and up to date on domestic and international issues.

“It’s an obligation and an opportunity,” she says. “And of course I never want that day to come, but I have to be prepared for it.”

President Joe Biden, her Senate colleague for many years, tweeted that he looks forward to working with Murray. “We’re witnessing history on Capitol Hill,” he said.

Only three members of the current Senate were present in 1992 when Murray was first elected: Republican leader Mitch McConnell, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, and Democrat Dianne Feinstein, 89, a fellow Democrat who was elected the same year and announced that she would not be seeking the position after that. questions about her age and health.

Murray will also chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee this year, and Maine Sen. Susan Collins will be the top Republican — another first, as two women have never headed that panel.

She says she hopes to work with Collins, who has been in the Senate for nearly as long, to try to curb the practice of last-minute approving huge spending, as Congress did in December and has done for many years. years does.

“Women have been here long enough now to take on positions of power that we never thought possible when I got to the Senate,” Murray says.

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Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.