Story highlights

MacDonough will replace Alan Frumin, who was parliamentarian for 18 years

Frumin came into the spotlight when he had to make rulings on Obama's health care plan

The Senate parliamentarian advises on rules and procedure

Washington CNN  — 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Tuesday the appointment of the first woman parliamentarian in the chamber since that position was created in the 1930s.

Elizabeth MacDonough will replace retiring parliamentarian Alan Frumin. MacDonough currently serves as one of Frumin’s top deputies.

The parliamentarian is the Senate’s official – and non-partisan – umpire, calling balls and strikes on how the arcane rules of the chamber apply to the often rough and tumble day-to-day debates.

Frumin, who was the chief parliamentarian for the last 18 years, was “impartial to a fault,” boasted Reid, D-Nevada. That explains why he is the only person appointed to the job by both Democratic and Republican majority leaders, Reid explained.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky praised Frumin’s smarts and his devotion to the Senate.

The soft-spoken and bookish Frumin gained Washington celebrity status in 2010 when he had to make a number of high-profile rulings related to the Senate’s handling of President Barack Obama’s health care bill.

He was “one of the most talked about men in Washington,” Reid said. “Despite the pressure and despite the national spotlight, Mr. Frumin remained calm and professional through what must have been one of the most intense moments of his career.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, praised MacDonough for her “professionalism” and for setting a precedent by being the first woman to hold the position.

“We all look forward to working with you, even when you give us disappointing ruling,” he told her with a smile.