Senate Consideration of Treaties
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
he consideration of treaties and nominations constitutes the executive business of the
Senate. The Senate conducts executive business only after it has resolved into executive
session. Senate Rule XXIX is concerned with executive sessions; Rule XXX discusses 1T
proceedings on treaties. This report is one of a series of CRS reports on aspects of the legislative
process. For more information on legislative process, see http://www.crs.gov/products/guides/
When the President submits a treaty to the Senate, the treaty and any supporting materials are
referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Paragraph 3 of Senate Rule XXIX requires that
all treaties and “all remarks, votes, and proceedings thereon shall also be kept secret, until the
Senate shall, by their resolution, take off the injunction of secrecy.” At the time the treaty is
referred to committee, the Senate typically agrees by unanimous consent to remove the
“injunction of secrecy.” (See Senator Orrin G. Hatch “Removal of Injunction of Secrecy - Treaty
Document No. 108-2,”Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 149, February 11, 2003, p.
The Foreign Relations Committee has the options of ordering the treaty reported back to the
Senate—favorably, unfavorably, or without recommendation—or of declining to act on the treaty.
If the committee votes to report a treaty, it is placed on the Senate’s Executive Calendar and must
lie over on this calendar for one day before floor consideration. The Senate may waive this
layover requirement by unanimous consent.
When the Senate is prepared to consider the treaty, the majority leader typically makes a non-
debatable motion in legislative session that the Senate go into executive session for the purpose of
considering that treaty. If the Senate already is in executive session, or if the Senate agrees simply
to resolve into executive session without the purpose for doing so being specified in the motion,
then a motion made in executive session to proceed to any but the first item listed on the
Executive Calendar is debatable.
Once in executive session, the Senate first considers the text of the treaty itself, just as it would
consider the text of a bill in legislative session. The treaty is amendable and it is open for
amendment at any point, with any amendments proposed by the Foreign Relations Committee
being considered first. When there is no further debate or amendment, the Senate does not vote on
approving the treaty. Instead, the Senate takes up a resolution of ratification, by which the Senate
formally gives its advice and consent, empowering the President to proceed with the ratification
of the treaty. This resolution typically states: “Resolved (two-thirds of the Senators present
concurring therein), That the Senate advise and consent to the ratification” of the treaty in
question. When the resolution of ratification is presented to the Senate, it incorporates any
amendments to the treaty that the Senate had approved.
One day is to elapse between the time the Senate completes action on the treaty itself and the time
it begins consideration of the resolution of ratification, although this requirement also is
frequently waived by unanimous consent. After the Senate has begun considering this resolution,
amendments proposing to change the text of the treaty itself no longer are in order. However,
Senators may amend the resolution of ratification by attaching to it reservations, declarations,
1 This report was written by Paul S. Rundquist, formerly a Specialist in American National Government, and Stanley
Bach, formerly a Senior Specialist in the Legislative Process at CRS. The listed author updated the report and is
available to answer questions concerning its contents.
statements, or understandings that can affect the interpretation or implementation of the treaty.
Again, the Senate first considers any reservation or other proposition that the Foreign Relations
Committee has reported.
The final vote on agreeing to the resolution of ratification, with whatever reservations or other
propositions may have been attached to it, requires a vote of two-thirds of the Senators present
and voting (a quorum being present). A two-thirds vote also is required to agree to a motion to
postpone indefinitely further consideration of the treaty and accompanying resolution, because
adopting that motion has the effect of disposing of the treaty permanently. All other motions,
including those proposing treaty amendments or reservations, require only simple majority votes.
Treaties, resolutions of ratification, reservations, and other propositions are all debatable under
the normal rules of the Senate, and are subject to the Senate’s cloture rule, Rule XXII. When
cloture is invoked on a resolution of ratification, action on all amendments and reservations must
be completed before a vote on ratification under the rule’s 30-hour time limit.
Frequently, the Senate agrees by unanimous consent to dispense with consideration of the treaty
itself and proceeds immediately to consider the resolution of ratification.
Treaties, unlike bills and other legislative measures, remain before the Senate from one Congress
to the next, until they are disposed of or withdrawn by the President. Paragraph 2 of Rule XXX
states in part that “all proceedings on treaties shall terminate with the Congress, and they shall be
resumed at the commencement of the next Congress as if no proceedings had previously been had
thereon.” Thus, if the Foreign Relations Committee fails to report a treaty before the end of a
Congress, the treaty remains before the committee during the next Congress. If the committee has
reported a treaty but the Senate has not completed floor consideration of it when the Congress
ends, the treaty is recommitted to the committee, and the committee must report it again before
the Senate may consider it on the floor.
For additional information, see Riddick’s Senate Procedure, pp. 832-842 and 1294-1310; and
Treaties and Other International Agreements: The Role of the United States Senate, a committee
print of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process