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When a New Congress Begins

On January 3, 2019, the Senate convenes its first session of the 116th Congress. The proceedings of this first day follow a well established routine. Having presented their credentials to the Senate, newly elected and reelected senators are sworn in by the vice president. The Senate is divided into three classes for election purposes, and every two years one-third of the Senate is elected or reelected. For this reason, only a third of the senators will take the oath on January 3.

The Opening of the United States Senate
Taking the Oath

Because photography is prohibited in the Senate Chamber, following the official oath ceremony new senators join the vice president in the Old Senate Chamber, where a reenactment of the swearing-in ceremony takes place. With this opening ceremony complete, the Senate proceeds with other business, such as the election of the president pro tempore and other officers as well as the assignment of desks in the chamber.

Unlike the House of Representatives, where all members face election every two years, the Senate does not have to reorganize itself following each election, but it will adopt an organizing resolution early in the new Congress to set procedures for operating the Senate during the next two years. Typically, the adoption of this resolution is routine, but there have been occasions when the Senate faced unique challenges, making organization difficult. As January continues, the Senate turns to legislative business. With each new Congress, all pending legislation of the previous Congress expires (with the exception of treaties), so many bills and resolutions are reintroduced. During the first weeks of the new Congress, some freshman senators mark an important milestone in their Senate careers by delivering their maiden speeches.

To learn more about the opening day of a new Congress or other Senate traditions, visit: Frequently Asked Questions about a New Congress, Guide to Senate Traditions, or Learn about the Senate.

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