Frequently Asked Questions about a New Congress
Who are my senators?
How can I contact my senators?
How can I find out more about my senators?
Have any current senators written a book?
Where do my senators sit on the Senate floor?
Who are the Senate's leaders?
How many senators are there in each party?
How often are senators up for reelection?
How are senators who are elected at the same time ranked in the chronological list of senators?
When are senators assigned to committees at the start of a new Congress?
How were the first senators assigned to the three classes?
When is the first day of a new Congress?
What happens to the legislation being considered in the previous Congress?
To find out who your senators are go to the "Senators" tab at the top of Senate.gov and choose your state from the drop down menu.
There are several ways to find out more about your senators.
- Visit their websites.
- Look them up in the Biographical Directory.
- Find them in the Congressional Pictorial Directory.
- Visit the Virtual Reference Desk page, "Senators" for additional membership information.
To find out if your senator has written a book, visit the page, "Books Written by Senators in the Current Congress."
The U.S. Senate Chamber Desk website provides an interactive map of where each senator's desk is located on the Senate floor. The site will be updated a few weeks after a new Congress begins; after all seating assignments have been finalized. To find out more about the process of desk assignment visit the web page, "Choosing seats."
The party division for each Congress is listed on the web page, "Party Division in the Senate, 1789-Present." The actual number of senators representing a particular party may change during a Congress due to the death or resignation of a senator, or as a consequence of a member changing parties.
A Senate term is six years long, so senators may choose to run for reelection every six years unless they are appointed or elected in a special election to serve the remainder of a term.
The chronological list of senators is a list of each senator's rank at the time of initial election. From 1789 to 1958, senators whose terms began on the same day are listed alphabetically. Beginning in 1959, senators are listed according to commencement of first Senate term by order of service, determined by former service in order as senator, vice president, House member, cabinet secretary, governor, and then by state population. This latter system for calculating order of service has been used by the modern Senate for many years for the purposes of office assignment. It is unclear just when the Senate first began applying such criteria.
Since the Senate is a continuous body, it is able to begin its organization before the start of a new Congress. Party conferences often convene before the start of each new Congress to elect leaders and determine committee assignments. Each party conference appoints a "committee on committees" to prepare a roster of members it wishes named to a party's specifically allotted committee seats. The percentage of a party's representation within the Senate determines the percentage of seats it will gain on each committee, although exact numbers are subject to negotiation between party floor leaders. Committee assignments are then approved by the Senate through resolutions, typically passed by unanimous consent at the beginning of each Congress.
For more information about how senators are assigned to committees read the "Committee Member" chapter of the article, "Senate Committees" or the CRS report, "Committee Assignment Process in the U.S. Senate: Democratic and Republican Party Procedures."
Have additional questions about committees? Visit the Committees FAQ page.
The process of assigning the first senators to the three separate classes was quite informal. In the first Senate, on May 15, 1789, the total body was divided into three groups, being sure that no state had both senators in a single group, and then lots were drawn for class one (expired in two years), class two (expired in four years), and class three (served the full six-year term), and the process moved on from there.
When new states are added, the number in each group is kept as even as possible, and then a coin is tossed to see which class the new senators will enter. For example, there is currently one class with 34 members and two classes with 33 members each. If a new state should be added to the Union, the two senators would be assigned to the two classes with only 33 members, making all three classes even at 34. Then the two new senators draw lots to see which class they join.
The U.S. Constitution mandates that Congress convene at noon on January 3 in each odd numbered year, unless it has passed a law allowing for Congress to convene on a different day or time (20th Amendment, Section 2).
To find out the start date of previous Congresses visit the web page, "Dates of Sessions of Congress, present - 1789."
When a new Congress convenes, all the legislation of the past two years has expired and must be reintroduced, with the exception of treaties.
For information on the Senate, Congress, the legislative process and the federal government, the Virtual Reference Desk is a good place to begin.