Chuck Grassley: I'm only three heartbeats from the presidency

Democrats took control of the House of Representatives on Thursday for the 116th Congress of the United States.
USA TODAY

Democrats took control of the House of Representatives as the 116th Congress convened on Thursday.

I'm now presiding over the Senate

By Chuck Grassley

The beginning of a new Congress is an exciting time. There are new faces and fresh opportunities to solve problems on behalf of constituents.

As a lover of history, I was eager to learn more about the origins of the office of president pro tempore. Unlike the vice president and speaker of the House, the president pro tempore isn’t as recognizable and the duties are not as well-known.

The president pro tempore is one of a handful of offices specifically named by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution. It has been a position in the U.S. government for as long as the presidency, and since 1890 the position of president pro tempore has customarily been the majority party senator with the longest continuous service. With the retirement of my friend and colleague, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the honor is now mine after 38 years of service in the U.S. Senate.

One of the more well-known facts about the office of the president pro tempore is that it’s third in line to succeed the presidency after the vice president and speaker of the House.

Talker: The shutdown is hurting people, leaving Americans in uncertainty

Sign-up for Today's Talker newsletter here

Duties of the position have changed over time. According to the Constitution, the main duty of the president pro tempore is to preside over the Senate when the vice president is either absent or exercising the office of the president. When the position was created, it was largely ceremonial because the duties of the vice president were different than they are today.

Until the early 20th century, the vice president wasn't included in the presidential Cabinet. The vice president's main concern was to preside over the Senate. In fact, before 1969, the vice president's office wasn't even in the White House — it was on Capitol Hill. That left little for the president pro tempore to do except fill in if the vice president was ill, traveling or otherwise indisposed.

Today, unless there is a tie to break, the vice president is rarely involved in the affairs of the Senate. That means the president pro tempore is responsible for presiding over the Senate. Duties include recognizing senators to speak, maintaining order, and ensuring that Senate proceedings run smoothly.

Traditionally, the president pro tempore also works to protect the important rules, principles and customs that make the Senate the world's greatest deliberative body. I plan on using this platform to promote important principles I have stood for during my entire Senate career, including transparency, accountability to the people and oversight of the federal government.

The office of the president pro tempore is rich with history, and I feel privileged to step into this role on behalf of the people of Iowa. It's true that I'm only three heartbeats away from the presidency, but my heart is and always will be in Iowa and in the U.S. Senate, where I've worked for the people of Iowa for the past 38 years. I look forward to serving the people of Iowa and the entire nation in this new capacity.

Chuck Grassley has represented Iowa in the U.S. Senate since 1980. His full column first appeared in the Des Moines Register. You can follow him on Twitter: @ChuckGrassley.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa

What others are saying

Corey R. Lewandowski, The Hill: "This will be a great year for President Donald J. Trump, and Democrats have a clear choice: Work with the president on issues where there is common ground, or fight the president at every turn while embracing a Democratic Socialist agenda that is only popular in college coffee houses. A defense of the Trump economic accomplishments, strong border security and an 'America First' foreign policy will keep the president in the good graces of the American people. Fighting those popular policies will lead the Democrats into a liberal abyss."

Nancy Pelosi and Jim McGovern, USA TODAY: "The Democratic majority means a fresh beginning after the most closed Congress in our nation’s history — a Republican Congress that shut out the voices of the American people to push backroom, speed-of-light, dark-of-night tax scams for the special interests, while enabling the worst of the Trump administration’s rampant culture of corruption, cronyism and incompetence. That is why we are proud to unveil a rules package that will usher in a new era of clean government that will honor the consensus of the American people — restoring the people’s house to the people. Transparency, ethics and unity will be the guiding light of the Democratic Congress."

Greg Sargent, The Washington Post: "There's Trump's corruption of our institutions, which includes efforts to diminish public faith in our democracy and authoritarian attacks on the rule of law to skirt accountability. There's Trump's personal corruption and self-dealing, and his co-opting of GOP members of Congress as shields against oversight and accountability. There's Trump's corruption of our discourse with nonstop disinformation, which includes his daily, routinized lying but also the basing of consequential policy decisions on phony rationales saturated in bottomless dishonesty and bad faith. When Nancy Pelosi takes over the gavel as speaker ... she will deliver a speech that telegraphs how Democrats intend to respond to all of these things."

What our readers are saying

The new Democratic House is filled with young progressives who have no experience or idea how the world works — believing that you can tax the wealthy and business to cover all their pet programs.

— David Nelson

Yes, by all means, try to raise taxes as your first action item, followed up by raising even more taxes to pay for liberal projects. I guess Democratic Senate and House leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi don't get TV stations covering the France riots. Hopefully, they have strong walls around their castles.

— John James

Liberals need to understand that, with a Republican Senate and President Donald Trump's veto power, they're not going to raise taxes. As a matter of fact, it's going to be a long two years if you want to get anything passed that the Republicans don't like.

— Jim Creekmore

The only thing that is going to happen is gridlock like we have never seen. Finger-pointing and the blame game. Both the left and right are going to butt heads and accomplish nothing.

And those planning on running in 2020 in the presidential race will put their faces in front of the cameras as much as possible making outlandish statements. Good luck.

— Garth Hogan

To join the conversations about topics on USA TODAY or provide feedback to this newsletter, email jrivera@usatoday.com, comment on Facebook, or use #tellusatoday on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chuck Grassley: I'm only three heartbeats from the presidency