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Monday, November 12, 2012

The First Day of a New Congress: A Guide to Proceedings on the Senate Floor

Judy Schneider
Specialist on the Congress

Michael L. Koempel
Senior Specialist in American National Government

The Senate follows a well-established routine on the opening day of a new Congress. The proceedings include—

  • swearing in Senators elected or re-elected in the most recent general election (approximately one-third of the Senate); 
  • adopting administrative resolutions; 
  • adopting standing orders for the new Congress; 
  • agreeing by unanimous consent to any date, other than the convening date, on which bills and joint resolutions may begin to be introduced; and 
  • electing a new President pro tempore and one or more Senate officers if there is a vacancy or change in party control. 

If an election to a Senate seat is undecided or subject to a determination by the Senate, the majority leader and other Senators may address the Senate’s posture on that election.

Other first-day activities might occur as a consequence of specific circumstances, such as providing for a joint session with the House to count electoral votes after a presidential election. After Senators are sworn or after organizational proceedings are completed, the Senate may turn to legislative or executive business or other activities.

Negotiations between the parties over committee sizes and ratios, the parties’ committee assignments, and any party leadership changes might begin during the early organization meetings for the new Senate, which occur in November and December following a general election. The committee assignment process may continue after the beginning days of a new Congress.

At some time, usually other than opening day, the Senate adopts committee assignment resolutions. Any changes in Senate party leadership take place in respective party conference meetings. There are no floor votes to ratify leadership changes.

Date of Report: October 31, 2012
Number of Pages: 10
Order Number: RS20722
Price: $29.95

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