Grassley not far from landing job that’d make him 3rd in line to be president – but the role is largely ceremonial

Source: By Joe Morton, Omaha World Herald • Posted: Friday, January 5, 2018

WASHINGTON — By this time next year, an Iowan could hold a Senate position putting him third in the line of succession to the presidency.

But Sen. Chuck Grassley probably shouldn’t let that go to his head. The chief qualifications for the position, after all, are time served and belonging to the majority party. And the role is largely ceremonial.

“It’s a pretty weak position,” said Steven Smith, professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis.

Having served in the Senate since 1981, Grassley has more seniority than all but two of his Republican colleagues: Utah’s Orrin Hatch and Mississippi’s Thad Cochran.

Hatch just announced that he won’t seek re-election this year, so he won’t be returning in 2019. And Cochran has struggled with health problems that could prompt him to step down in the near future.

In an interview with The World-Herald, Grassley said he hasn’t given the prospect of serving as pro tem much thought and that he’s working off the assumption that Cochran will stick around.

He also noted that Republicans hold a slim majority that could flip as a result of the upcoming November midterm elections.

“Why think about it when it’s 51 to 49?” Grassley said. “It could be 51 to 49 with the Democrats in control.”

Grassley would be the first Iowan to hold the job since Sen. Albert Cummins, who served as pro tem from 1919 to 1925.

The job does involve a few perks, including a salary bump from $174,000 to $193,400. It also comes with an office in the Capitol and a small security detail.

And it’s arguably a privilege to hold a title specified in the Constitution, but it doesn’t come with the kind of raw legislative or political power that a position such as the majority leader entails.

“The position has never been given a significant role in Senate governance,” Smith said of the pro tem.

The constitutional duties involve presiding over the Senate in the absence of the vice president. But that duty is typically delegated to junior members on a day-to-day basis and the vice president often takes the presiding chair only for truly historic votes.

Hatch’s departure also will free up the chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee, which Grassley could reclaim next year if he wanted to give up the gavel of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Grassley said his committee decisions would be influenced in part by whether Congress is tackling additional tax legislation or overhauling entitlement programs, areas that fall under the Finance Committee’s jurisdiction.

But Grassley also suggested that he has items left on his to-do list for the Judiciary Committee, such as a balanced-budget constitutional amendment.

And he reiterated that future decisions will be influenced by whether the GOP remains the majority party.

“I’m not going to worry about anything until I find out whether I’m a minority member,” Grassley said.