Presiding Officer of the United States Senate

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The Presiding Officer is the person who presides over the United States Senate and is charged with maintaining order and decorum, recognizing members to speak, and interpreting the Senate's rules, practices and precedents. The Presiding Officer is a role, not an actual office; whoever is presiding at the time is the Presiding Officer.

The Vice President of the United States is designated by the Constitution as ex officio President of the United States Senate. However, during a vacancy in the office (such as that caused by death, resignation or presidential succession), the President pro tempore of the United States Senate, a Senator elected to the post by the Senate at the beginning of each Congress, serves as the permanent President of the Senate. Prior to ratification of the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution, February 10, 1967, there was no mechanism to fill an intra-term vacancy in the vice presidency, and the office was not filled until after the next presidential election.

The President pro tempore, who by custom is the most senior Senator of the majority party, is nominally responsible for presiding over the Senate "in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of the President of the United States" (Article I, Section 3, Clause 5). More typically, junior senators of the majority party designated by the President pro tempore preside over the chamber.

An exception to this pattern is when the Senate hears the impeachment trials of the President of the United States, in which the Chief Justice of the United States is the presiding officer. This has occurred only twice, during the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson in 1868 (in which Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presided) and that of Bill Clinton in 1999 (in which Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist presided).

Manner of address[edit]

The presiding officer is usually addressed as "Mr. President" or "Madame President." One exception is during impeachment trials of the president; the Chief Justice was referred to as "Mr. Chief Justice" both in 1868 and in 1999 while presiding over the Senate.[1]

During joint sessions of Congress in which the President of the United States is giving the address, practices have varied as to how the President refers to the Vice President. President Barack Obama and his immediate predecessor George W. Bush have addressed the Vice President as "Vice President Biden" (in 2010) and "Vice President Cheney" (in 2008 and several previous years), or as "Mr. Vice President" (George W. Bush in 2001). However, earlier presidents referred to the Vice President as "Mr. President" while addressing a joint session of Congress; Eisenhower, for instance, did so in 1960, and George H. W. Bush did so in 1991.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See closing argument of Thaddeus Stevens during the trial of President Johnson and a transcript of Day 17 of the Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton