Long a powerful force in Washington, Daniel K. Inouye became just a little bit more so following the death Monday of Sen. Robert Byrd, Democrat from West Virginia.

At 8 a.m. Hawaii time, Inouye was sworn in as president pro-tempore of the U.S. Senate, an honor afforded the second-highest-ranking official of the U.S. Senate and the highest-ranking senator.

The “president pro-tem,” as the position is called, is essentially an honorary position.

Sen. Harry Reid, the Democrat of Nevada, will still control the 100-member chamber’s agenda as Senate majority leader. Technically, Vice President Joe Biden is the highest-ranking Senate official, although he can only vote in the case of a tie.

But, in the unlikely event that Biden, President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should all die, Inouye would become president.

“My heart is heavy with sadness following the passing of a dear friend,” Inouye said in a statement. “We have been friends for nearly 50 years and I am overcome with memories. Nearly 48 years ago Senator Byrd was one of the first to greet me in the chamber of the United States Senate…And since those early days, I have called him, ‘my leader.’

The senator added, “He was my mentor…He was a Senator’s Senator.”

Inouye will remain chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a position he assumed in 2008 after Byrd, in failing health, was gently pushed aside. He will also receive a new security detail.

Another milestone: Inouye, a Japanese American, is now the highest ranking Asian-American government official in U.S. history.

The pro tem is traditionally the most senior senator in the majority party, and on that Inouye, who will turn 86 in September, has no competition. He has served in the Senate for 47 years and is running for re-election this fall for what would be his ninth term in office.

Earlier this month, Inouye became the second longest-serving senator in U.S. history, surpassing the late Sen. Strom Thurmond. Byrd’s Senate service totalled nearly 52 years.

Inouye and Hawaii’s other senator, Daniel Akaka, were born within the same week in 1924.

Hawaii Rep. Charles Djou released a statement on Byrd’s passing an hour earlier than Inouye.

“It is truly an end of an era,” said Djou, a Republican. “Senator Inouye, like Senator Byrd, has served in Congress faithfully for decades, and I look forward to working with him to advocate for the best interests of Hawaii.”

At the state convention of the Democratic Party of Hawaii in late May, Inouye told the faithful he would run again in 2016, when he would be 92.

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