WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont was sworn in Tuesday as president pro tempore of the Senate.
As the longest serving Democrat now in the Senate, Leahy moved to third place in the line of presidential succession, behind Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner.
Biden swore Leahy in as the successor to Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye in the Senate post. Inouye, who also chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee, died Monday at age 88. A vase of white roses was on Inouye's desk on the Senate floor.
"I can't tell you how much it pains me," Leahy said before being sworn in. "He was one of the greatest members of this body ever to have served, and a dear friend to so many of us."
Leahy is expected to succeed Inouye as chairman of the appropriations panel. The 72-year-old Leahy is the current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is expected to take over from Leahy as chairman of the Judiciary panel, a move that could boost the prospects for congressional action on gun control measures in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. school slayings. Feinstein has promised to reintroduce the expired federal ban on assault rifles.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., is expected to become chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, replacing Feinstein on that panel.
An announcement on the new chairmanships could come as soon as Wednesday.