The Constitution instructs the Senate to choose a president pro tempore to preside over the Senate in the absence of the vice president. Pro tempore is a Latin term meaning "for the time being,” signaling that the position was originally conceived as a temporary replacement. The framers of the Constitution assumed that the vice president would preside over the Senate on a regular basis, so the Senate would only need to elect a president pro tempore to fill in as presiding officer for short periods of time.
Although the Constitution does not specify who can serve as president pro tempore, the Senate has always elected one of its members to serve in this position. Since the mid-20th century, tradition has dictated that the senior member of the majority party serve as president pro tempore.
In addition to presiding over the Senate, the president pro tempore fulfills a number of other responsibilities. In consultation with Senate leaders, for example, the president pro tempore appoints the director of the Congressional Budget Office (jointly with the Speaker of the House), as well as Senate legislative and legal counsel. The president pro tempore also makes appointments to various national commissions and advisory boards and receives reports from certain government agencies.
In the absence of the vice president, the president pro tempore may administer all oaths required by the Constitution, may sign legislation, may jointly preside with the Speaker of the House when the two houses sit together in joint sessions or joint meetings, and may fulfill all other obligations of the presiding officer. Unlike the vice president, however, the president pro tempore cannot vote to break a tie in the Senate.
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