Senate gallery visitors may hear the majority leader request that “the Senate proceed to executive session.” What is an executive session? Article II, section 2, of the Constitution states that the Senate shall provide its “advice and consent” to treaties and nominations. The Senate holds executive sessions to consider these issues and other business received from the president. Senate rules require that different journals and calendars be maintained for executive and legislative business.
When the Senate convened for the first time in 1789, it followed the tradition of the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention and met behind closed doors. Six years later the Senate opened its legislative sessions to the public, but continued the tradition of closed-door executive sessions. Though no transcripts of those sessions were kept, newspapers regularly published accounts of closed meetings often based on information leaked by senators. Following a heated debate over a judicial nomination in 1929, the Senate changed its rules, opening executive sessions to the press and public. Today closed sessions are rare, typically occurring when the Senate considers national security issues.