United States Senate

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Senate chamber, showing visitors gallery (top) and Senator's desks on the floor.

The United States Senate is the upper house of the United States Congress, the lower house being the United States House of Representatives. The U.S. Senate is composed of 100 Senators, two from each of the 50 states. The Senate convenes in Washington, D.C.. As of 2022, Democrats control the Senate, with 48 Democrats, 50 Republicans, and 2 Independents, including Bernie Sanders and Angus King, who vote and caucus with the Democrat Party.

The U.S. Senate, along with the House in a joint session of Congress held on January 6, 2021, accepts or rejects the Electoral College votes for president. If the Senate declines to certify 270 votes for a candidate amid alternate slates of Electors, then the presidential election is transferred to the House to select the president from the top three contenders, with each State having an equal vote, rather than voting by population proportion as the House usually does.

On social issues like abortion the U.S. Senate is more liberal than the U.S. House, probably due to the greater influence of the media on the statewide Senate elections. Most votes on controversial issues are along party lines, although a few senators from both parties may cross lines against what their leadership endorses. Due to the clubby nature of the Senate, many bills have bipartisan support among both Republicans and Democrats.

Unless rules specify otherwise, the Senate may agree to any question by a majority of Senators voting, if a quorum is present. The Chair puts each question by voice vote unless the "yeas and nays" are requested, in which case a roll call vote occurs.[1]

The Senate is named for the Roman Senate, the governing council of ancient Rome. The Latin word means a council of elders, and derives from the same Latin root as senior.


Senators are elected by each of the fifty states. They serve for six-year terms, without term limits. Approximately one-third of the Senate comes up for re-election every two years. Although originally elected by the state legislatures, the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913 gave that power to the citizens. If a Senator resigns or dies in office, that state's Governor appoints a temporary Senator to maintain that state's representation.

The position of President of the Senate is filled by the Vice President of the United States. The Vice President only votes in the case of a tie. The Senate's current Majority Leader is Democrat Chuck Schumer and the Minority Leader is the Republican Mitch McConnell.

Since all 50 states are represented equally in the Senate, because of the federalist principles in the Constitution, it is likely that conservatives will continue to have relatively strong influence in the Senate even if future demographic shifts favor leftist Democrats.[2][3]

Powers of Senate

In addition to passing legislation, the Senate also has a number of unique and special powers.

  • The Senate has the power to try cases of impeachment of federal officials, should such officials be impeached by the House of Representatives. When the President in on trial, such proceedings are overseen by the Chief Justice of the United States. This has happened only three times: the impeachment proceedings of Presidents Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump. None of them were removed from office. (The closest that a President has come to being removed was Richard Nixon; however, realizing that he would likely be removed from office, chose to resign instead.)
  • The Constitution gives the Senate the power to "advice and consent" appointments made by the President. Major appointments subject to this include heads of Cabinet-level federal departments, Supreme Court justices, U.S. District Court and United States Court of Appeals judges, U.S. Attorneys, ambassadors to foreign powers, high-ranking military commands and certain federal agencies such as NASA or the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • The Senate ratifies all treaties between the United States and foreign powers.
  • If there no majority in the Electoral College, the Senate selects the Vice President while the House selects the President. The Senate has only used this power once: in 1837, when it elected Richard Mentor Johnson Vice President after Virginia's delegates to the Electoral College voted for Martin Van Buren but refused to vote for him, giving him one vote shy of a majority. Under the Twelfth Amendment, the Senate elected Johnson 36 to 16 with three abstentions along sharp party lines.
  • A notable difference between the Senate and the House of Representatives is the ability for the minority to filibuster; in other words, 60 votes are required to force legislation to continue onto a voting period. The filibuster is important to prevent a majority of even 51 to 49 from forcing legislation through. This was crucial during the 110th congress from 2007-2009, where the Democrat Party had a majority of merely 51-49, and if not for the filibuster could have forced potentially harmful legislation through. However, in recent years the filibuster has been watered down.

Current Composition

  • Democrat Party (Majority): 48
  • Republican Party (Minority): 50
  • Independent (caucus with Democrats) : 2

Ann Coulter complained that "Republicans lost their majorities in the House and the Senate in 2006, thanks to George W. Bush's highly effective "Keep the Base at Home on Election Day" campaign, which consisted of pushing amnesty for illegal aliens."[4]

In fiction

The Senate has figured very prominently in American literature and especially cinema. Arguably the two most famous motion pictures in which the Senate and/or certain fictitious members of it figure prominently are:

  • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which an ingenuous interim Senator comes to the Senate and rebels against the graft and chicanery that he discovers there. So accurate were the replicas of the Senate chambers, galleries, and cloakroom that Columbia Pictures Corporation built for the film that visitors to the Senate galleries have often remarked that their visit was like appearing in the movie.
  • The Manchurian Candidate, in which the wife of one member of the New York State Senate delegation hypnotically orders her son to kill the other member of that delegation, as part of a much larger plot to make her husband President of the United States "with powers that will make martial law seem like anarchy."


The third Seal of the United States Senate, adopted in 1886. At the top of the circle can be seen a red Liberty Cap

Official Senate histories

The following are published by the Senate Historical Office.

  • Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989
  • Robert C. Byrd. The Senate, 1789–1989. Four volumes.
    • Vol. I, a chronological series of addresses on the history of the Senate
    • Vol. II, a topical series of addresses on various aspects of the Senate's operation and powers
    • Vol. III, Classic Speeches, 1830–1993
    • Vol. IV, Historical Statistics, 1789–1992
  • Dole, Bob. Historical Almanac of the United States Senate
  • Hatfield, Mark O., with the Senate Historical Office. Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789–1993 (essays reprinted online)
  • Frumin, Alan S. Riddick's Senate Procedure. (1992).

Scholarly studies

  • Baker, Richard A. The Senate of the United States: A Bicentennial History (1988).
  • Baker, Richard A., ed., First Among Equals: Outstanding Senate Leaders of the Twentieth Century Congressional Quarterly, 1991. biographies of famous Senators
  • Barone, Michael, and Grant Ujifusa, The Almanac of American Politics 1976: The Senators, the Representatives and the Governors: Their Records and Election Results, Their States and Districts (1975); new edition every 2 years; latest issue August 2009.
  • David W. Brady and Mathew D. McCubbins. Party, Process, and Political Change in Congress: New Perspectives on the History of Congress (2002)
  • Caro, Robert A. The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Vol. 3: Master of the Senate. Knopf, 2002.
  • Comiskey, Michael. Seeking Justices: The Judging of Supreme Court Nominees U. Press of Kansas, 2004.
  • Congressional Quarterly Congress and the Nation: 2001–2004: A Review of Government and Politics: 107th and 108th Congresses (2005); massive, highly detailed summary of Congressional activity, as well as major executive and judicial decisions; based on Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report and the annual CQ almanac; (CQ is a private company; it is nonpartisan and relied upon by all Senate watchers)
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1997–2001 (2002)
    • Congressional Quarterly. Congress and the Nation: 1993–1996 (1998)
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1989–1992 (1993)
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1985–1988 (1989)
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1981–1984 (1985)
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1977–1980 (1981)
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1973–1976 (1977)
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1969–1972 (1973)
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1965–1968 (1969)
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1945–1964 (1965), the first of the series
  • Cooper, John Milton, Jr. Breaking the Heart of the World: Woodrow Wilson and the Fight for the League of Nations. (2001).
  • Davidson, Roger H., and Walter J. Oleszek, eds. Congress and Its Members, (CQ, 10th ed. 2007) (Legislative procedure, informal practices, and member information)
  • Gould, Lewis L. The Most Exclusive Club: A History Of The Modern United States Senate (2005), the best history, by a leading historian
  • Hernon, Joseph Martin. Profiles in Character: Hubris and Heroism in the U.S. Senate, 1789–1990 (1997).
  • Hoebeke, C. H. The Road to Mass Democracy: Original Intent and the Seventeenth Amendment. (1995). (popular elections of Senators)
  • Lee, Frances E. and Oppenheimer, Bruce I. Sizing Up the Senate: The Unequal Consequences of Equal Representation. (1999). 304 pp.
  • Malsberger, John W. From Obstruction to Moderation: The Transformation of Senate Conservatism, 1938–1952. (2000)
  • Mann, Robert. The Walls of Jericho: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Russell and the Struggle for Civil Rights. (1996)
  • Ritchie, Donald A. Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents. (1991).
  • Ritchie, Donald A. The Congress of the United States: A Student Companion (2nd ed. 2001).
  • Ritchie, Donald A. Reporting from Washington: The History of the Washington Press Corps (2005).
  • Rothman, David. Politics and Power the United States Senate 1869–1901 (1966)
  • Swift, Elaine K. The Making of an American Senate: Reconstitutive Change in Congress, 1787–1841. (1996)
  • Valeo, Frank. Mike Mansfield, Majority Leader: A Different Kind of Senate, 1961–1976 (1999) Montana Democrat and majority leader
  • VanBeek, Stephen D. Post-Passage Politics: Bicameral Resolution in Congress. (1995)
  • Weller, Cecil Edward, Jr. Joe T. Robinson: Always a Loyal Democrat. (1998). (Arkansas Democrat who was Majority leader in 1930s)
  • Wirls, Daniel and Wirls, Stephen. The Invention of the United States Senate (2004). (Early history)
  • Zelizer, Julian E. On Capitol Hill : The Struggle to Reform Congress and its Consequences, 1948–2000 (2006)
  • Zelizer, Julian E., ed. The American Congress: The Building of Democracy (2004) (overview)


  1. https://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/reference/b_three_sections_with_teasers/glossary.htm
  2. Kurtz, Howard (October 12, 2018). Change the rules? Why the Left is slamming the Senate and Electoral College. Fox News. Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  3. Kirkwood, R. Cort (July 18, 2018). Would Demographic Shift Really Be Bad For “Democracy”? The New American. Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  4. Thank these Republicans for Obamacare

See also

External links