Quorum Requirements in the Senate: Committee and Chamber

Quorum Requirements in the Senate:
Committee and Chamber
Betsy Palmer
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division
Quorum Requirements in Committee. Senate Rule XXVI establishes
minimum quorum requirements for four areas of committee activity. These are listed in
the following table. See [http://www.crs.gov/products/guides/guidehome.shtml] for more1
information on legislative process.
ActionMinimum QuorumRule XXVI
To report a measure, matterA majority of the committee(7)(a)(1)
or recommendation“physically present”
To close a meeting orA majority of the committee(5)(b)
To transact business otherOne-third of membership(7)(a)(1)
than reporting a measure,
matter or recommendation
To take sworn or unswornOne-third of membership, or(7)(a)(2)
testimonya “lesser number” as may be
authorized by the committee
Senate committees have discretion in adjusting the minimum quorum requirements
mandated in Rule XXVI as long as they adopt rules that are “not inconsistent with the
Rules of the Senate.” For instance, most committees allow a single Senator to take
testimony at a hearing, rather than the one-third required by Rule XXVI. Committees
cannot change the majority physically present quorum needed for reporting a measure.
Quorums in the Senate. Rules and practices for quorums in the Senate derive
from Article I, Section 5, clause 1 of the Constitution, which states in part that “a Majority
of each [House] shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may
adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent
Members, in such Manner, and under such penalties as each House provides.” Thus, the

1 This report was originally prepared by former CRS specialist, Richard C. Sachs. Please direct
any inquires to the listed author.

quorum for conducting business in a Senate of 100 Members is 51 Senators. The Senate
always presumes the presence of a quorum, unless it is shown one is not present. In
practice, there are rarely 51 Senators present in the Senate chamber except when the
Senate is voting. Any Senator can challenge the presumption of a quorum by rising and
stating: “Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.” Usually, the presiding officer
cannot count to determine if a quorum is present, but, according to the requirements of
Rule VI, paragraph 3, must immediately direct the clerk to call the roll. (Only when the
Senate has invoked Rule XXII and is operating under cloture does the presiding officer
have the authority to count to determine the presence of a quorum.)
In the Senate, the quorum call is more often a device by which the chamber can
suspend its formal proceedings temporarily than a procedure to bring legislators to the
floor for a vote. Senators initiate quorum calls for several reasons. For example, when
a Senator completes a statement and notices that no one else is on the floor, the Senator
typically suggests the absence of a quorum. When the Senate finds itself confronted with
a procedural problem or policy disagreement, a Senator sometimes will respond by
suggesting the absence of a quorum in the hope that the matter can be resolved through
informal conversations, while the clerk is calling the role. Such quorum calls provide an
opportunity for informal discussions and negotiations among Senators. Because quorum
calls for these purposes are recognized as a procedure for constructive delay, the clerk
calls the role very slowly.
Once the quorum call has begun, the Senate may not resume business until either a
majority of Senators has responded to the call, or the Senate has, by unanimous consent,
agreed to a request to “dispense with further proceedings under the quorum call.” In such
a case, whether or not a quorum of the membership has come to the floor, the Senate
returns to business.
There are instances when a quorum call is intended to bring Senators to the floor to
register their presence. There are four instances that may result in such a situation, called
a “live” quorum call: (1) under Rule XXII, immediately before any cloture vote; (2) under
Rule XII, before the Senate acts on a unanimous consent request to set a date for voting
on whether to pass a bill or joint resolution; (3) when the majority leader suggests the
absence of a quorum and announces that there is to be a live quorum call because he
wishes to bring Senators to the floor for some reason; or (4) when the clerk completes a
routine quorum call without a majority of Senators having responded. Quorum calls for
cloture and unanimous consent agreements are usually waived by unanimous consent.
During a live quorum call, the clerk calls the names of Senators more quickly.
When a Senator who has the floor requests the yeas and nays on the pending
question, the Senate assumes — as its regular practice — that those present constitute a
quorum. The Senate usually requires that the request for a roll-call vote must be
supported by at least one-fifth of the smallest possible quorum. Consequently, at least 11
Senators — one-fifth of the minimum quorum of 51 Senators — must raise their hands
to support a request for a roll-call vote. If there is sufficient support, the question then
pending before the Senate will be decided by a roll-call vote whenever the time arrives
for voting on that question.