While Washington's two U.S. senators gained new power as Democrats took control of Congress yesterday, the state's "third senator" lost his top standing. Aging, crusty Alaska Republican Ted Stevens stepped down as Senate president pro-tempore, the person who stands in for Senate president Dick Cheney and is third in order of presidential succession behind vice-president Cheney and new Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The pro-tempore job now belongs to equally aging, crusty West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd. Porkbarreler ("Bridges to Nowhere") Stevens is known for his Incredible Hulk ties and tendency to rant; pork-barreler Byrd has a similar style, as Dana Milbank reports today in the Washington Post:
The 89-year-old West Virginia Democrat, beginning his ninth term, wore a red-white-and-blue tie and punctuated the opening prayer with shouts of ‘Yes!' and ‘Mmmhmmm!' and ‘Yes, Lord!' and ‘Yes, in Jesus's name!' When he was sworn in, he twice cried out ‘Hallelujah!' and then ‘Amen!' Minutes later, he was installed as Senate president pro tempore, the majority party's most senior member. ‘Yeah, man! Yeah, man!' he shouted. ‘Hallelujah!' ‘I do, so help me God!' he shouted when the oath was administered. ‘Yeah, man!'
Stevens, up for re-election this year, did step down with a friendly nod to Seattle (whose political donors gave $220,000 to his 2002 re-election campaign) and the local fishing industry. In his final act as president pro-tempore on Wednesday, he signed the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act, named for him and the late Washington Sen. Warren Magnuson. It protects against the fishing of threatened or endangered sea life, helping conserve north Pacific stocks. Coincidentally, the act was originally signed into law in 1976 by then-President Gerald Ford, who was buried Wednesday.