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Friday, November 16, 2012

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

Judy Schneider
Specialist on the Congress

This report explains House floor activities during the first formal session of a new Congress, and it serves as a guide for those participating in or watching these proceedings.

The House is not a continuing body. Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution sets a term of office of two years for all Members of the House. One House ends at the conclusion of each two-year Congress, and the newly elected House must constitute itself at the beginning of the next Congress. The House must therefore choose its Speaker and officers and adopt the chamber’s internal rules of procedure every two years.

The Constitution mandates that Congress convene at noon on January 3, unless it has earlier passed a law designating a different day. Although no officers have been elected when the House first convenes, some officers from the previous Congress perform certain functions, such as conducting the election of the Speaker.

The House follows a well-established first-day routine. Following a quorum call, the House elects the Speaker, who is then sworn in. The Speaker, in turn, administers the oath of office to the newly elected and re-elected Members. The House elects and swears in its administrative officers, adopts its rules of procedure, and agrees to administrative resolutions, including one establishing its daily hour of meeting.

On opening day, the House usually adopts resolutions assigning some or many of its Members to serve on committees. This process often extends over several more weeks. The committee assignment process occurs primarily within the party groups—the Republican Conference and the Democratic Caucus. Assignment resolutions cannot be considered on the House floor until these groups have adopted rules governing committee assignments and made assignment choices to recommend to the House.

Other routine organizational business may also be taken up on the House floor on the first day. The Speaker usually announces the Speaker’s policies on certain floor practices; a resolution might be adopted providing for a joint session of Congress to receive the President’s State of the Union message; and a resolution may be adopted to allow a judge or a Member of Congress to administer the oath of office to Members-elect who are absent due to illness or for other reasons.

Some resolutions on opening day are dependent on specific circumstances and do not occur at the beginning of each new Congress. At the outset of a new Congress following a presidential election, the House must adopt a resolution providing for the counting by the new Congress of electoral votes cast for the President and Vice President of the United States. In these inaugural years, the House also adopts resolutions to continue the existence of the Joint Inaugural Committee and to authorize the use of the Capitol and its grounds for inauguration activities.

Date of Report: November 9, 2012
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: RL30725
Price: $29.95

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