This scene, painted in the late 1890s, depicts the U.S. Senate Chamber as it appeared at the opening of a session of Congress. Senators have just introduced the various bills to be considered during the session, and the large number of papers indicates that a heavy workload lies before them. New York illustrator T. Dart Walker captured the scene from the press gallery located on the north side of the Chamber. Below this gallery, but not illustrated, is the rostrum where the presiding officer of the Senate sits. Until recent years the vice president of the United States, as president of the Senate, presided regularly over Senate debates from this vantage point.
When, and why, did the Vice President stop presiding regularly over the Senate?
These days, it seems the only time you see the Vice President of the United States actually doing their job as President of the Senate, is:
1) Breaking tie votes in the Senate (historical average of 1.1 times per year).
2) Sitting next to the Speaker of the House when the President gives a State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress (once a year).
3) The counting of the Electoral College vote (once every four years).
However, when the Vice President of the United States is not doing their job as President of the Senate, that does not mean that the job goes undone.
Rather, when the VPOTUS is absent, the role of President of the Senate is performed by the President pro tempore of the United States Senate, or by someone they designate. Pro tempore or pro tem is a Latin phrase which translates to “for the time being” or “temporary“ in English. The very title implies that the “President pro tempore” should only exercise that authority temporarily, not permanently.
The Constitution clearly designates (emphasis mine) that:
The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.
The Senate shall chuse their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States.
As quoted above, the Senate’s own web site says that “Until recent years the vice president of the United States, as president of the Senate, presided regularly over Senate debates…”. However, people have lost sight of that, and today Wikipedia says:
Normally, neither the Vice President of the United States nor the President pro tempore presides; instead, the duty is generally delegated to the majority party’s junior senators to help them learn parliamentary procedure.
That explains how on at least two occasions in 2007, February 1st and June 21st, our nation ended up with Barack Obama instead of Dick Cheney acting as President of the Senate (follow link and scroll down to the two videos from those days).
Sarah Palin understands the significant Constitutional responsibility of the Vice President to act as President of the Senate. Yet she was ridiculed by the liberal media for that.
UPDATE: Historical Note… look at the original Bill of Rights:
Note the following signatures at the bottom:
Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, Speaker of the House of Representatives
John Adams, Vice-President of the United States, and President of the Senate.
Back then, it was normal for the VP to perform their duties as President of the Senate.