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Sessions of Congress

The annual series of meetings of a Congress is called a session. Each Congress generally has two sessions, based on the constitutional mandate that Congress assemble at least once a year. In addition, a meeting of one or both houses is a session. And a house is said to be in session on any particular day when it is meeting.


Closed Sessions

Closed sessions of the Senate, sometimes referred to as secret sessions, are used for deliberations during impeachment trials, as well as to discuss issues of national security, confidential information, and sensitive communications from the president. Prior to 1795, every session of the Senate was closed.

Closed Sessions of the House and Senate (pdf)

Closed Sessions of Congress:  A Brief Historical Overview (pdf)

The Senate Opens Its Doors, December 9, 1795

"Dear Diary," October 17, 1803

Joint Sessions

The Senate and the House occassionally meet together to conduct formal business, hear an address by the president, or count electoral votes.

Joint Sessions and Meetings of Congress

Addresses by Speakers from Great Britain to Joint or Separate Sessions or Meetings of Congress Since 1789 (pdf)

The President's State of the Union Address

Churchill Addresses Congress, December 26, 1941

Lame Duck Sessions

A lame duck session occurs when Congress (or either chamber) reconvenes following the November general elections. Some lawmakers who return for this session will not be in the next Congress because they were defeated or decided not to run again. Hence, they are informally called "lame duck" members participating in a "lame duck" session. When the president convenes a session after Congress has adjourned sine die, it is called a special session.

Lame Duck Sessions, 1933-present

The First Monday in December, December 2, 1793

A Dramatic Session, July 4, 1861

Ten Senators Expelled, July 11, 1861

"Turnip Day" Session, July 26, 1948

Recess and Adjournment

Although the terms recess and adjournment mean different things, they are often used interchangably to refer to a period of time when one or both houses are not in session.

The August Recess:  An Overview

The August Recess, August 6, 1971

Escaping the Summer's Heat, July 27, 1956

Recess Appointments:  Frequently Asked Questions (pdf)

Recess and Adjournment:  FAQ from C-SPAN

Regular Sessions

Dates of Sessions

Saturday Sessions

Sunday Sessions

Related Publications

The United States Senate: 110th Congress (2007-2009)

Related Items

Interested in related materials? Take a look at these Virtual Reference Desk subjects for more information.




Rules and Procedure