House Rules Changes Affecting Floor Proceedings in the 108th Congress

CRS Report for Congress
House Rules Changes Affecting Floor
Proceedings in the 108 Congress
Elizabeth Rybicki
Analyst in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
On the first day of the 108th Congress, the House agreed to H.Res. 5, which madeth
several rules changes affecting floor proceedings. The 108 Congress was the first
Congress to convene after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the House
modified three rules to prepare for a catastrophic event. In addition, the House adjusted
its rules regarding motions to instruct conferees and the admission of electronic devices
on the floor. It also repealed the term limit on the Speaker. The House clarified rules
concerning the access of leadership staff to the floor, five-minute voting in a series, and
the motion to adjourn during a call of the House. H.Res. 5 also included a standing
order concerning motions to suspend the rules. This report will be updated if the rulesth
of the 108 Congress change.
When the 108th Congress convened on January 7, 2003, the House adopted its rules
for the next 2 years by agreeing to H.Res. 5. Following a well-established practice,
H.Res. 5 provided for the rules of the previous Congress to be the rules of the new
Congress, but with a set of amendments. This report briefly discusses each of the nine
substantive changes to the standing rules of the House and one standing order that affect
the transaction of business on the floor.1
Speaker Succession. H.Res. 5 amended Rule I, clause 8(b) to require the
Speaker, for the first time, to submit to the clerk of the House a list of Members who shall
take over the responsibilities of the speakership in the event of a vacancy, which could
include a situation where the Speaker is physically unable to perform his duties. In case
the office of the Speaker becomes vacant, the highest listed Member available will

1 The resolution agreed to by the House, H.Res. 5, also changed the rules affecting the House
committee system. These changes, including the creation of the Select Committee on Homeland
Security and the authority granted to committees to postpone votes, are described in CRS Reportth
RS21382, Committee System Rules Changes in the House, 108 Congress. The resolution also
made technical and grammatical changes to the House rules.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

become Speaker pro tempore and serve until the election of another Speaker or Speaker
pro tempore.
Emergency Recess. In the event of an impending threat to the safety of
Congress, the Speaker under an addition to Rule I, clause 12 may declare an emergency
recess. The House would stand in recess subject to the call of the chair, or, in other
words, until reconvened by the Speaker. If the sergeant at arms notifies the Speaker of
a threat during any recess or adjournment of not more than 3 days, the Speaker, in
consultation with the minority leader, may change the time or the location of the next
meeting of the House. Furthermore, the Speaker may convene the House in locations in2
Washington, DC other than the Hall of the House.
Accounting for Vacancies. Article I, Section 5, clause 1 of the Constitution
states that “a Majority of each [House] shall constitute a quorum to do Business.” The
whole number of the House is required to determine the presence of a quorum, which has
long been defined as a majority of the Members elected, sworn, and living.3 Whenever
the death, resignation, disqualification, removal or expulsion of a Member results in a
vacancy, the whole number of the House is adjusted. Under a new provision of clause 5,
Rule XX, when vacancies occur, the Speaker will announce this adjustment. The
announcement by the Speaker will not be subject to appeal.
Motions to Instruct Conferees. H.Res. 5 modified clause 7(c)(1) of Rule XXII
to make a motion to instruct conferees in order after a conference committee has been
appointed for 20 calendar days and 10 legislative days without making a report. The rule
of the previous Congress only contained the mandate for 20 calendar days; it made no
mention of legislative days.
A legislative day is not necessarily a calendar day. A legislative day begins the first
time the House meets after an adjournment and ends when the House adjourns again.
When the House is in session, legislative and calendar days usually coincide because the
House typically adjourns prior to the end of a calendar day. The change will affect the
timing for offering motions to instruct when a recess intervenes and calendar days but no
legislative days have occurred.
Electronic Devices on the Floor. House rules have long forbidden the use of
electronic devices on the floor. The House changed the rules of the 108th Congress to
forbid only “a wireless telephone or personal computer” (Rule XVII, clause 5). The
sergeant at arms, as in previous Congresses, will enforce the rule. According to the

2 The clause states “The Speaker may convene the House in a place at the seat of government
other than the Hall of the House whenever, in his opinion, the public interest shall warrant it.”
The “seat of government” has been statutorily defined as Washington, DC, since 1947 (4 U.S.C.
71). The language of the rule, however, is such that if the seat of government changed, the
Speaker could relocate meetings of the House within that city as well. Article I, Section 5, clause
4 of the Constitution requires the consent of both the House and the Senate to adjourn for more
than 3 days or to meet at “any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.”
3 CRS Electronic Briefing Book, Terrorism, page on “Continuity of Congress: Proposals and
Issues,” by Paul Rundquist, at [].

summary submitted by the chair of the Rules Committee, unobtrusive handheld electronic
devices will be permitted on the floor.4
Repeal of Speaker Term Limit. The House repealed clause 9 of Rule 1, which
had limited the Speaker to serving four consecutive terms.
Staff Access to the Floor. H.Res. 5 amended clause 2(a)(7) of Rule IV to grant
designated party leadership staff access to the floor with the approval of the Speaker.
This addition formalized existing practice.5 The Speaker announced his intention to grant
such privilege to a few staff members, from both parties, whose responsibilities
necessitate their presence on the floor.6
Five-Minute Voting in a Series. H.Res. 5 clarified clause 9 of Rule XX, which
grants the Speaker the discretion to reduce the minimum time allowed for voting on a
second or subsequent electronic vote to five minutes, provided the Speaker has given
notice and no business has taken place between votes. The adjustment consolidated and
simplified the earlier rule.
Proceedings during Call of House. H.Res. 5 amended House Rule XX, clause
6(c) to clarify that any Member might move to adjourn during a call of the House. It has
long been in order to move to adjourn after every Member has had a chance to respond
to a call of the House but before the result of the call has been announced. The previous
language of the rule could have been interpreted as granting the Speaker the discretion to
entertain the motion.
Suspension of the Rules on Wednesdays. H.Res. 5 also included a standingth
order, or a rules change applicable only to the first session of the 108 Congress. Through
April 9, 2003, the Speaker may entertain motions to suspend the rules on Wednesdays,
in addition to Mondays and Tuesdays as provided for in clause 1 of Rule XV.

4 Section-By-Section Summary of H.Res. 5, inserted material, Congressional Record, daily
edition, vol. 149 (Jan. 7, 2003), p. H12.
5 Section-By-Section Summary of H.Res. 5, inserted material, Congressional Record, daily
edition, vol. 149 (Jan. 7, 2003), p. H12.
6 Announcement by the Speaker Pro Tempore, inserted material, Congressional Record, daily
edition, vol. 149 (Jan. 7, 2003), p. H21.