WASHINGTON, D.C. — Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray began her sixth term Tuesday in historic fashion, becoming the Senate’s first woman president pro tempore, a post that puts her third in line to the presidency.
Murray, of Whidbey Island, was sworn into office by Vice President Kamala Harris. In her new role, Murray will preside over the Senate when the vice president is absent. It is a position reserved for the senior-most member of the majority party.
“It’s a responsibility I am very honored to take on for my country and for Washington state,” Murray said in remarks on the Senate floor. “I hope that when young women now see me in this position they see they can accomplish anything they set their mind to.”
Murray recalled that when she was first elected in 1992 “there were three other women elected to the Senate with me, and 24 in the House. And that was enough for them to call it the ‘year of the woman.’”
“Well, today, we have more women serving in the Senate than when I first started,” she said. “But you know what: we need more. We need more women in leadership roles, and more women at the decision making table. But today really is a sign of the progress I have fought for, for a very long time.”
Murray succeeds Sen. Patrick Leahy, who retired after nearly five decades in the Senate.
She wasn’t the only senator making history Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., cemented a legacy of his own after winning a second term as leader and getting sworn in as the longest-serving senator from New York. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., notched his place in congressional history as he surpassed Montana Sen. Mike Mansfield’s record of 16 years as party leader.
The celebratory Senate proceedings were in marked contrast to those in the U.S. House of Representatives where the GOP majority was unable to pick a new speaker as House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California fell short of the necessary number of votes to succeed California Democrat Nancy Pelosi.
After three rounds of voting failed to produce a winner, the Republican House majority adjourned.
In the Senate, McConnell easily dismissed a challenge from within after the November midterms, and, like Schumer, begins the new year with strong support from his caucus.
Praising the tenure of Mansfield, a Democrat who led his party in the Senate after Democrat Lyndon Johnson resigned to become vice president in 1961 and served until 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 Senator Michael Joseph Mansfield of Montana became the longest-serving Senate leader in American history until this morning.”
Like 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 either side of the need to work together when the good of the country is on the line.”
“If both sides are willing to give it a good faith effort, I’m optimistic we can be successful, far more successful than many might think,” Schumer said.
The Senate swore in seven new members, five Republicans and two Democrats, on Tuesday.
Unlike the House, where the swearing in was overshadowed by the antagonistic fight over the speaker’s chair, the mood was jovial in the Senate. Family, friends and predecessors looked on as those freshman, 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.
Former Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska accompanied his daughter, newly re-elected Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and hugged her after she took her oath. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, stood behind newly elected Republican Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio, a rare show of bipartisanship on swearing-in day.
Herald reporter Jerrry Cornfield contributed to this report.