In the Loop: Hatch, Lugar Differ on Who Is the GOP's Senior Senator

So who is the GOP's senior senator? Sens. Orrin Hatch, top, and Richard Lugar were sworn in on the same day, but each claims seniority. The answer is, well, complicated.
So who is the GOP's senior senator? Sens. Orrin Hatch, top, and Richard Lugar were sworn in on the same day, but each claims seniority. The answer is, well, complicated. (Michael Conroy - AP)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Al Kamen
Monday, September 14, 2009

We got a nice note Friday from Andrea Saul, press secretary for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). "I was reading your . . . column this morning," she wrote, referring to the 2010 Almanac of American Politics quiz that we included, "and noticed you have Sen. Lugar listed as the longest-serving Republican senator. Sen. Hatch is actually the longest-serving GOP Senator," she said, and if you see photos of them in the chamber, "you can even see that he is in the first GOP seat, with Lugar behind him. . . . Can you correct this?"

Certainly. We looked at Hatch's Web site and there it was, plain as day. Hatch "is the most senior Republican," it said.

So we took a quick look at Richard Lugar's site and there it was, plain as day: Lugar is "the U.S. Senate's most senior Republican." Lugar's site refers to him as the fourth-most-senior member of the Senate, and notes that Hatch is the fifth-most-senior.

Competing claims? Apparently the debate has raged for some time.

Seems both lawmakers were sworn in on the same day -- Jan. 3, 1977. There are numerous criteria set by the Senate Rules Committee for determining seniority when senators are sworn in on the same day. These include whether you've been in the House, or have been a governor or member of the Cabinet. If there is still a tie, senators are ranked in terms of their state's population at the time of their swearing-in.

Under those rules, the edge would go to Lugar. The Senate historian's office uses those rules to decide who's senior for historical purposes, we were told, which is why Lugar is ranked 1,705th senator (out of a total of 1,911) and Hatch is 1,708. It's also why Lugar has a lower Senate license plate number.

We were cautioned, however, that while that's how the committee rules work (the Democrats follow those rules), the ultimate decision on party seniority is set by each party's caucus. Under Republican rules when Hatch and Lugar were elected, the GOP used the alphabet and not state size to determine party seniority. So under those rules, Hatch is clearly No. 1.

The GOP's rules have since changed. They now say: "If all prior service considerations are equal, Senators' conference seniority and position for selection of committees should be determined by drawing." (Safer, though less dramatic, than the old pistols at 40 paces.)

And the GOP caucus, of course, can do whatever it likes should it revisit the issue -- something it's not likely to do until the ranking actually matters. That won't be until the GOP gets 11 more seats and retakes control of the Senate.

Well, they're both No. 1 in our book.

Sorry, Wrong Number

Meanwhile, several callers have noted question No. 6 in the Almanac quiz should have asked which four (not three) former House members lost in party primaries last year. The fourth was Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.)

Distinguished Company

Outgoing Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton was in town Friday to accept the title of honorary commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for promoting police cooperation between the United States and the United Kingdom.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company