The ascension of Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, to the position of president pro tempore of the Senate makes him third in line of succession to the president and the first Asian-American to be this close to the Oval Office.
Inouye, who is of Japanese descent, assumed the position with the death of Sen. Robert Byrd last summer. Yesterday, he was elected to the position for the new Congress. Under the Constitution, the vice president succeeds the president in the event of his or her death or incapacitation. Under the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, the House speaker is next in line, followed by the Senate's president pro tempore. After that come Cabinet members in the order that their department was created, with the secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, being fourth in line.
Asian-Americans have served in the Cabinet and technically been in the line of succession. They included Norman Mineta, the former Congress member from California who served as Transportation secretary under George W. Bush and Commerce secretary under Bill Clinton. But Inouye is the first Asian-American above Cabinet rank in the succession order.
The Senate president pro tempore is the second-highest official in that chamber after the vice president, and the position is generally given to the longest-serving senator. Inouye was first elected to the Senate in 1962; he is the second oldest senator after Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. A wounded and decorated World War II veteran, and a former House member, Inouye has represented Hawaii since it became a state in 1959.
He's currently the only disabled person in the line of succession. Inouye lost his right arm after a grenade explosion while he was in combat in Italy. President Clinton awarded him the Medal of Honor in 2000.