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The vice president acts as the president of the Senate. In the vice president's absence, that position is filled by the president pro tempore, who is usually the most senior senator of the majority party. The majority leader has significant powers in the appointment of majority senators to committees. Political parties also elect majority and minority leaders to lead their efforts in the Senate. They are assisted by an assistant floor leader (whip) and a party secretary.

Other Senate officers include the secretary, who oversees Senate finances and official Senate pronouncements related to IMPEACHMENT proceedings and treaty ratification, and the sergeant at arms, who serves as the law enforcement and protocol officer and organizes ceremonial functions.

A Day in the Life of the Senate

As the bells ring in the halls of the Capitol and its office buildings, the U.S. Senate starts the day's session. The presiding officer of the Senate, sometimes the vice president but usually the president pro tempore, accompanies the Senate chaplain to the rostrum to lead the chamber in an opening prayer.

After short speeches by the majority and minority leaders, the Senate begins the "morning hour"—a session that generally lasts two hours. During this time senators introduce bills, resolutions, and committee reports and speak briefly on subjects of concern. Bills are referred to approrpiate committees at this time.

Following the morning hour, the Senate may take up executive or legislative business. If in executive session, the Senate considers treaties or nominations that the president has submitted for Senate approval. Before 1929 executive sessions were conducted behind closed doors. Since then, however, the public and the press have been allowed to observe these sessions.

Most of the Senate's time, however, is spent in legislative session. This time is used to debate and vote on bills. Bills with unanimous consent are enacted by a simple voice vote without debate, whereas more controversial bills may be debated at length and may undergo roll call votes. Some bills may not come up for a vote at all.

During debate of a bill, assistant floor leaders, or whips, from each party usually occupy the seats of the majority and minority leaders, located in the front row, center aisle, of the Senate chamber. They enforce established time limits, if any, for debate on specific bills. Frequently, only a few senators are on the Senate floor, while the majority are attending committee meetings or working in their offices. From their offices, senators may apprise themselves of Senate proceedings either through "hot lines" to the Senate floor or live television coverage on the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-SPAN), which began broadcasting Senate sessions in 1986.

A Senate legislative day may end in either adjournment or recess. If the Senate adjourns, a legislative day is officially over. If it merely recesses, however, the legislative day resumes on the following calendar day. In the case of a recess, the Senate may forego the rituals of the morning hour on the next calendar day. This is frequently done to save time during busy legislative sessions.

Sometimes, when there is a filibuster or heavy legislative load, the Senate does not stop at the end of the day but continues through the night. During these night sessions, a lantern at the top of the Capitol dome remains lit. The public has access to Senate galleries at all times that the Senate is in session, day or night.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Secretary to SHAsSenate - Members, Committees, Officers, A Day In The Life Of The Senate, Further Readings