Experts worried about a 90-year-old Republican who could be 3rd in the line of the presidential succession
Chuck Grassley / Gage Skidmore

With the rise of political violence and a midterm battle for the U.S. Senate that could result in another 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans, experts are calling for reform to the presidential line of succession.

At issue is the position of President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate, who is third in the line of presidential succession behind the vice president and speaker of the House of Representatives.

The position comes with a budget, Capitol Police security detail, and the ability to preside over the body in the vice president's absence. It has traditionally been held by the most senior senator in the majority party.

The current pro tem is Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, 82, of Vermont. Leahy was hospitalized early this month after not feeling well and had hip surgeries in June and July.

Leahy is not seeking re-election. The two senior-most senators, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California and Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, are both about to enter their nineties.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Feinstein says she will not seek the position.

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“I’ve never thought about being the president pro tempore and I have no interest in it at this time,” Feinstein, also known as DiFi, said.

The newspaper reported, "her Republican counterpart, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, also 89, has made the opposite call. Should Iowans hand him an eighth six-year term, as is expected next month, Grassley would accept the position of president pro tem, his office confirmed to The Washington Post, and he would leave decisions about the line of succession up to others. But historians are expressing concern, particularly as political violence is on a dramatic rise, about a line of succession that runs to a senator who is particularly old and might be a less-than-optimal choice during a national crisis."

The position does not necessarily have to go to the most senior member of the majority party, from 1963 until 1978, Montana Democrat Lee Metcalf held the position of permanent acting President pro tempore of the Senate.

"Also concerning to the experts is that to an unprecedented extent, the federal government is being overseen by octogenarians," the newspaper reported. "President Biden, the oldest ever to occupy the Oval Office, turns 80 next month. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is 82, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is 80."

Grassley's age has become an issue in polls as he seeks re-election in Iowa, a state that first elected him to the legislature in 1958, but Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy noted he had held the position before.

"Nobody relishes the idea of a country losing its top three elected leaders, but Senator Grassley was and continues to be clear-eyed about the duties of the [position],” Foy said.

Read the full report.