Democrats elected Patty Murray as Senate president pro tempore, making her 3rd in line to the presidency.
It's a break from decades of precedent. Senators usually pick the longest-serving member of their party.
That would've been Dianne Feinstein. But she declined the job, and questions remain about her abilities.
Senate Democrats on Thursday elected Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, their second-longest serving member, as president pro tempore of the Senate.
"Majority Leader Schumer nominated Sen. Patty Murray and the Democratic caucus unanimously selected her to become the President Pro-Tem in the 118th Congress," a source in the caucus room told Insider.
The position puts her third in line to the presidency, behind the vice president and the speaker of the House. Murray, 72, is the first woman to ever hold the job.
"I just want to say it's a real honor, and I'm very aware that this is an historic moment," Murray told Insider at the Capitol last month after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made clear his intention to nominate her. "I'm hopeful that young girls across the country see that they can be successful in this."
But Murray's nomination is a break from decades of precedent. Since the 1940s, senators have typically chosen the most senior member of their party to serve in the largely ceremonial role.
Come January, that would have been 89-year-old Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who took office just a couple of months before Murray in 1992.
Feinstein declined the job — though when asked about that by Insider last month, she appeared unaware that she had issued such a statement.
"You were asked about it over the break, and you put out a statement saying that you had no intention of running for it," an aide walking with the senator told Feinstein when approached by Insider.
"Okay, well then, I guess it's out," she conceded at the time.
Numerous reports over the last two years have raised questions about Feinstein's ability to carry out her duties as senator, given alleged signs of cognitive decline.
And the senator has sometimes appeared confused when performing routine duties as a legislator.
"I don't even know what that is," Feinstein could be heard telling a staffer in the Capitol about a vote on a government funding bill in September.
In February, Schumer publicly declined to say whether he had confidence in Feinstein's ability to serve as senator.
Insider recently explored America's aging political class in the "Red, White, and Gray" project, reporting that nearly one in four members of Congress are in their 70s and 80s and that the vast majority of Americans view the increasingly advanced age of political figures as a problem.
And staffers for long-serving members have often had to play an outsize role in helping their bosses do the job.
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