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Enactment of a Law

Motions, Quorums, and Votes

| Motions | Quorums | Voting |


The motions which "shall be received" under Rule XXII when "a question is pending" "and which shall have precedence as they stand arranged" are:

  • To adjourn.
  • To adjourn to a day certain, or that when the Senate adjourn it shall be to a day certain.
  • To take a recess.
  • To proceed to the consideration of executive business.
  • To lay on the table.
  • To postpone indefinitely.
  • To postpone to a day certain.
  • To commit.
  • To amend.

All but the last four of these motions are not debatable.

The motion to adjourn should be distinguished from a resolution to adjourn both houses of Congress. Neither is debatable. The Senate may adjourn for as long a period of time as it sees fit, up to the Constitutional limitation of three days, without the consent of the other House, or it may adjourn for only a few minutes and reconvene on a new legislative day in the same calendar day.

The motion to lay on the table is a simple way of taking final action on pending business on which the Senate wishes to take a negative position. It is applicable to a bill and amendments thereto as well as to certain motions. An amendment can be laid on the table without prejudice to the bill to which it was offered, but an amendment to the amendment would also go to the table. Since the motion is not debatable, the question can be brought to a vote in a hurry. The motion is used generally to reach a final disposition on motions to reconsider or appeals from the decision of the chair. While the motion is applicable to pending business, it is not commonly used for the disposition of legislation--bills are generally either voted up or down. The preamble to a bill or resolution may be laid on the table without carrying the bill or resolution with it.

The motion to postpone indefinitely is the next in order, but it is rarely used to dispose of bills except in the case of companion bills, i.e., the Senate passes a House-passed bill and indefinitely postpones a companion Senate bill which has been reported and placed on the calendar. It is a way of effecting a final disposition of a measure. The motion to postpone to a day certain is also used by the Senate. These motions are debatable and amendable and take precedence over a motion to refer or commit. A motion to take up another bill while unfinished business is pending has precedence over a motion to postpone the unfinished business to a day certain.

A motion to recommit a bill to committee with instructions to report the bill back forthwith with an amendment, if agreed to, requires that the committee report the bill back to the Senate immediately with that proposed amendment which is then before the Senate for consideration.

The last of this series of motions which shall be received under Rule XXII, "when a question is pending," and in the order listed above, is "to amend." Any bill, or amendment thereto, before the Senate is open to amendment.


"If, at any time during the daily sessions of the Senate, a question shall be raised by any Senator as to the presence of a quorum, the Presiding Officer shall forthwith direct the Secretary to call the roll and shall announce the result, and these proceedings shall be without debate." "Whenever upon such roll call it shall be ascertained that a quorum is not present, a majority of the Senators present may direct the Sergeant at Arms to request, and, when necessary, to compel the attendance of the absent Senators, which order shall be determined without debate; and pending its execution, and until a quorum shall be present, no debate nor motion, except to adjourn, shall be in order."

The Senate proceeds under the assumption that a quorum is present unless the question is raised; in that case, the bells are rung to inform the "absentee" Senators and the Presiding Officer directs a call of the roll. All decisions incident thereto are made without debate, and if a quorum is not present by the time the results from the roll call are announced, a majority of the Senators present may direct the Sergeant at Arms to request or compel the attendance of the absent Senators. Senators may be forced to attend, unless granted a "leave of absence" or by authority of the Senate, even if a quorum is present. Senators who do not reach the chamber when the roll is being called in time to answer to their names may gain recognition after the call and have their presence or vote recorded, provided the results have not been announced.

Under the practice of the Senate, anyone, once recognized, can request a quorum call, but a Senator who has the floor cannot be forced to yield to another for that purpose. The chair is not permitted to count in order to ascertain the presence of a quorum; it must be determined by roll call.

There is no limit to the number of requests for quorum calls that may be made during the course of a day; a request is generally held dilatory if no business has transpired since the last one, and it is not in order immediately after a roll call vote showing that a quorum is present. The reception of a message from the House has not been ruled as the transaction of business sufficient to justify a quorum call. The following have been ruled to be business: the ordering of engrossment and third reading of a joint resolution, presentation and reference of a communication, granting of permission to insert an article in the Record, objection to a bill under call of the calendar under Rule VIII, the making of a motion or ordering of the yeas and nays, voting on motions to recess, adjourn, and lay on table and on an appeal from the decision of the chair, the offering of an amendment, agreeing to a motion for an executive session, and submitting a report out of order.

A motion may be made to request attendance of those absent, and instructions to compel their attendance may be added. Such a motion is not debatable. A quorum call on various occasions has been withdrawn by unanimous consent while the roll was being called; but when an announcement of no quorum has been made, it is not in order to vacate the call even by unanimous consent. In the absence of a quorum, neither debate nor the transaction of business, including motions (except the motion to adjourn), is in order; it is not even in order to move to recess.


Rule XII, relating to voting, provides:

  1. When the yeas and nays are ordered, the names of Senators shall be called alphabetically; and each Senator shall, without debate, declare his assent or dissent to the question, unless excused by the Senate, and no Senator shall be permitted to vote after the decision shall have been announced by the Presiding Officer, but may for sufficient reasons, with unanimous consent, change or withdraw his vote. No motion to suspend this rule shall be in order, nor shall the Presiding Officer entertain any request to suspend it by unanimous consent.
  2. When a Senator declines to vote on call of his name, he shall be required to assign his reasons therefor, and having assigned them, the Presiding Officer shall submit the question to the Senate: "Shall the Senator, for the reasons assigned by him, be excused from voting?" which shall be decided without debate; and these proceedings shall be had after the roll call and before the result is announced; and any further proceedings in reference thereto shall be after such announcement.

Any one of the several methods of voting utilized by the Senate may be resorted to for final disposition of any amendment or bill or question. The methods are: voice vote, division, and yea and nay. The yeas and nays may be ordered when the request is seconded by 1/5 of a presumptive quorum, but frequently the Presiding Officer does not bother to count; he merely takes a glance at the "showing" of hands and orders the call; simultaneously the bells ring in both the Senate wing of the Capitol and the Senate office buildings. The names of the Senators are called in their alphabetical order. Voting and changes of votes are in order until the decision has been announced by the chair.

A Senator can change his vote at any time before the result is announced. In the case of a veto, a yea and nay vote is required by the Constitution. Otherwise, the Senators may utilize any of the methods. After the result of a vote has been announced, a request for a division or yea and nay vote comes too late; the announcement that the "ayes (or nays) seem to have it" is not a final result. The yeas and nays may be demanded prior to announcement of the results of a division vote.

Where less than a quorum votes and the number of pairs announced are not sufficient to make a quorum, it is the duty of the chair to order a quorum call; the vote is valid if a quorum was present, even if a quorum did not vote, provided that a number of those not voting, sufficient to make a quorum, announced they were present but paired.

"Pairing" is the practice that has been developed in both houses to enable Representatives and Senators to register their opinion on any particular issue or issues when they are unavoidably absent from the chamber on public or private business. By the use of "pairs" a Senator (or Representative) favoring a particular issue, and who is absent when a roll-call vote is taken on it, may make his opinion effective by contracting (pairing) with a colleague opposing the issue that neither of the Senators will vote. "Pairs" are not counted as yeas or nays in the official tabulation of the roll call for the purpose of determining the adoption or rejection of the issue being voted on.

After all amendments to an original amendment to a bill have been disposed of, the question recurs on the adoption of the amendment as amended, if amended. After all amendments to a bill have been acted on, the question recurs on third reading and passage of the bill. After the Senate acts on an amendment or on a bill, or almost any question on which the Senate has voted, any Senator voting on the side that prevailed may offer a motion to reconsider the vote by which that action was taken. A Senator voting in the minority cannot move to reconsider a yea and nay vote; if he did not vote he may.

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