Democratic Senator 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’s 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.
Leahy was elected in 1974 and is serving his seventh term. He was the youngest senator to be elected in Vermont, at age 34, and is the state’s longest serving senator.
A former prosecutor, Leahy has been active on criminal justice, human rights, privacy, and environmental issues during his Senate career.
An announcement on the new chairs could come as soon as Wednesday.
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California is expected to take over from Leahy as chairwoman 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.
Unions plan new offensive after setback in Michigan
Blindsided by a new law weakening union rights in Michigan, organized labor is preparing to target several Republican governors up for reelection in 2014 — part of a renewed offensive against perceived antiunion policies.
While unions fared reasonably well nationally last month at the ballot box, their struggle to survive has forced them to spend staggering sums just trying to hold ground.
It is money not spent on recruiting new workers to stem a membership decline that has made unions more vulnerable than ever.
‘‘It’s unfortunate that that’s the case,’’ said Michael Podhorzer, political director for the AFL-CIO. ‘‘But the reality of having elected officials who are so antiorganizing is that this is the first step to getting to the point where we can organize workers.’’
In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation last week prohibiting unions from requiring workers to pay dues or representation fees, even if they are covered by union contracts.
Unions in Michigan hope to collect enough signatures for a ‘‘statutory initiative’’ that would let the state’s voters cast a ballot for or against ‘‘right-to-work,’’ essentially overriding the new law.
Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, said his group now is eyeing Alaska, Missouri, Montana, and Pennsylvania. Democratic governors in Missouri and Montana would be likely to block such measures.
In Pennsylvania, Republican Governor Tom Corbett recently said his state lacks the political will to change the labor laws.
Obama to attend special inaugural prayer service
President Obama is planning to participate in a special prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral the morning after he takes the oath of office, his inaugural committee announced Tuesday.
An inaugural service was first held by President George Washington and has been a tradition for most modern presidencies, including for Obama four years ago.
This time Obama and Vice President Joe Biden plan to attend an invitation-only interfaith service Jan. 22 at 10:30 a.m.
Obama will begin his second term at noon on Sunday, Jan. 20, and is planning a private swearing in at the White House.
His public inauguration will be on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Monday, Jan. 21, since the ceremony is not traditionally held on Sundays.