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Sessions of the Senate

Every two years the Senate convenes a new “congress,” a two-year period of legislative business. Typically, a congress is divided into two annual sessions of the Senate, convened in early January and adjourned in December. On any given day, however, the Senate may meet in a variety of designated sessions to fulfill its legislative, executive, and constitutional duties.

Senate Chamber
Washington, D.C.—The New Administration—President Pro Tem. Ferry Administering the Oath of Office to Vice-President Wheeler in the Senate Chamber, March 5th.
The House Committee of Impeachment Managers in the Senate Chamber, Washington, D. C., on the 4th Inst.—John A. Bingham, Chairman, Reading the Articles of Impeachment.

Types of Sessions

Daily Session: The Senate’s routine day.

Special Session: When the Senate convenes an extra session, following sine die adjournment, it is known as a special session.

Extraordinary Session: An extraordinary session occurs when the president exercises his constitutional authority to call Congress back into session during a recess or after a sine die adjournment.

Joint Session: When the Senate and the House meet together to conduct formal business, to hear an address by the president, or to count electoral ballots, it is known as a joint session. On some occasions, the two houses of Congress meet unofficially to hear foreign dignitaries speak or for other purposes. This is known as a joint meeting.

Pro Forma Session: From the Latin, meaning “as a matter of form,” a pro forma session is a brief meeting of the Senate, often only a few minutes in duration.

Lame Duck Session: A lame duck session occurs when Congress (or either chamber) reconvenes following the November general elections. Among the lawmakers who return for this session are those who were defeated for reelection or chose not to run again. They are informally called "lame duck" members participating in a "lame duck" session.

Closed Session: Closed sessions of the Senate, sometimes referred to as secret sessions, are used to debate confidential information, such as classified material dealing with national security, and for deliberations during impeachment trials. From 1789 to 1795 the Senate always met in closed sessions. After the Senate agreed to open its doors to the public in 1795, it continued to conduct all executive business—that dealing with treaties or presidential nominations—in closed session. In 1929 the Senate decided to open all routine business to the public, including much of its executive business deliberations.

Executive Session: In the Senate, a portion of most days is given to executive business with the Senate meeting in executive session to consider treaties or presidential nominations. Although such sessions were closed for many years, the modern Senate does most of its executive business in open session.

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