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A Temporary Senate Pro Tempore
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, December 22, 2000

Question: Will Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) be the president pro tem of the United States Senate from Jan. 3 through the 20th while the Democrats are in the majority? The early word was that the Democrats were not going to assert their power during their brief period of control (brought about by the 50 Democratic senators, plus the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Al Gore). However, even if it were for a single hour, I think the Democrats should claim the position that is third in line to the presidency. – Paul Baker, Virginia Beach, Va.

Byrd went nowhere in his abortive 1976 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: I think that Byrd, a nonpareil student of the history of the Senate, will claim that position, even if it is for such a truncated period. While the role and identity of Senate president pro tempore have evolved over time, the occupant of the position has come to be the senior member of the majority party. The president pro tem gets a salary hike and patronage powers but little else. But the position is, as you say, next in line for the presidency after the vice president and Speaker of the House. With the Democrats set to be in the majority during that 17-day period, Byrd – first elected to the Senate in 1958 – will replace Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) as president pro tem. Democrats may not use their majority power to make changes during their brief reign; some speculate that the Senate may not even conduct business during that period. But look for Byrd to re-assume the role he held when the Democrats last controlled the Senate, from 1989 to 1994.

Question: What would have been the result of the presidential election had it taken place in 2004, when reapportionment would have kicked in (New York and Pennsylvania losing a few seats, California, Florida, Texas gaining). Would the electoral votes have been the same had Bush and Gore won the same states they won this year? – William Chou, Berkeley, Calif.

Answer: The reapportioning of congressional seats (and thus electoral votes for 2004) is several months away. But preliminary figures indicate that had the expected new numbers been used for this year’s election, Bush would have a net gain of six electoral votes, finishing with 277 (instead of 271) to Gore’s 261 (instead of 267 -- actually 266, since one D.C. Gore elector decided to cast a blank vote as a protest against the District's lack of voting representation in Congress). While this is not set in stone, here are the possible changes in total electoral votes for 2004; candidate in parenthesis was the state’s winner this year.

Gaining two seats: Arizona (Bush), Georgia (Bush), Texas (Bush).

Gaining one seat: California (Gore), Colorado (Bush), Florida (Bush), Nevada (Bush).

Losing one seat: Connecticut (Gore), Illinois (Gore), Mississippi (Bush), Ohio (Bush), Oklahoma (Bush), Wisconsin (Gore).

Losing two seats: New York (Gore), Pennsylvania (Gore).

Question: You've mentioned at least twice (see Oct. 6 and Nov. 20 columns) that there were only nine faithless electors in our nation's history and you've cited the list of seven in the 20th Century, but who are the other two faithless electors? – Karl Horberg, Danbury, Conn.

Answer: In 1796, a Federalist elector from Pennsylvania broke ranks and voted for Democratic-Republican candidate Thomas Jefferson instead of John Adams. In 1820, a Democratic-Republican elector from New Hampshire voted for John Quincy Adams instead of James Monroe.

Question: Before Hillary Clinton, who was the last Protestant senator from New York? – Sally Smith, Herndon, Va.

Goodell finished third behind Jim Buckley and Dick Ottinger in the 1970 New York Senate race. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: It was Charles Goodell, a Republican appointed to the Senate by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (R) following the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968. Goodell, an Episcopalian, was defeated in his bid for a full term in 1970 by James Buckley, the candidate of the Conservative Party. The last previous Protestant New York senator to have been elected was Republican Kenneth Keating, a Presbyterian, in 1958. Keating lost his seat six years later to Kennedy. Since Keating, there have been four Catholics elected (RFK, Buckley, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Alfonse D’Amato) and two Jews (Jacob Javits and Charles Schumer).

Question: What happens if a Bush nominee for the Supreme Court can't get past the Senate? Does the Court just stick with eight Justices? Where is the number of Justices stipulated? It isn't in the Constitution, to my knowledge. – Adam Pavlik, Merrill, Mich.

Answer: The Supreme Court Justice count has been at nine since the Civil War, though that number (as you said) is not specified in the Constitution. The Judiciary Act of 1789 set the number at six, which was increased to seven in 1807, to nine in 1837, to ten during the Civil War, down to eight in 1867, and finally back to nine in 1869. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, frustrated by a court that was hostile to his New Deal, tried to "pack" the court in 1937 by upping the number to 15. The reaction to his idea from the public and Congress was negative, and the plan never went anywhere. But helping to end the hostility was a series of court decisions that went FDR’s way. And the retirement of some anti-Roosevelt justices allowed the president to put his own people on the court, starting with pro-New Deal Sen. Hugo Black (D-Ala.) in ’37.

Ever since, whenever there has been a vacancy the president has tried to fill it. Abe Fortas resigned from the court on May 14, 1969, and three months later President Nixon nominated Clement Haynsworth to succeed him. The Senate rejected Haynsworth’s nomination in November. The following January Nixon picked G. Harrold Carswell, but the Senate turned him down as well, in April. A week later, Nixon chose Harry Blackmun, who went on to win confirmation unanimously on May 12 -- nearly a year after Fortas’ resignation. It was the longest vacancy on the court since 1862.

Question: I heard that after JFK appointed his brother Bobby to be Attorney General, a law was made that presidents could no longer appoint immediate family members to Cabinet posts. Is that true? – Kim Piros, Mesa, Ariz.

Answer: In 1967, a federal statute was passed that said, "A public official may not appoint, employ, promote, advance'' a relative in any agency ''in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction or control." By then Robert Kennedy had traded in his Cabinet post for the Senate. Some contend that the statute was pushed through by President Lyndon Johnson, who detested Bobby and wanted to show his disdain for him. But former Rep. Neal Smith (D-Iowa) says the statute was his idea and that it had nothing to do with Kennedy. Smith was angered by the way lawmakers on Capitol Hill put family members on the payroll, and so he added the measure to a bill that provided for postal-rate increases. There was little debate on the measure and it passed quietly.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

© Copyright 2000 Ken Rudin

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