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Senate Consideration of Presidential Nominations: Committee and Floor Procedure

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Publication Date: May 2009

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL31980

Topic: Government (Legislative power and procedure)

Abstract:

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution provides that the President shall appoint officers of the United States "by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate." This report, which will be updated as warranted, describes the process by which the Senate provides advice and consent on presidential nominations, including receipt and referral of nominations, committee practices, and floor procedure.

The vast majority of presidential appointees are confirmed routinely by the Senate. A regularized process facilitates quick action on thousands of government positions. The process also allows for lengthy scrutiny of candidates when necessary. Each year, a few hundred nominees to high-level positions are subject to Senate investigations and public hearings.

Committees play the central role in the process through investigations and hearings. Senate Rule XXXI provides that nominations shall be referred to appropriate committees "unless otherwise ordered." The Senate rule concerning committee jurisdictions (Rule XXV) broadly defines issue areas for committees, and the same jurisdictional statements generally apply to nominations as well as legislation. A committee often gathers and reviews information about a nominee either before or instead of a formal hearing.

A committee considering a nomination has four options. It can report the nomination to the Senate favorably, unfavorably, or without recommendation, or it can choose to take no action at all. It is more common for a committee to fail to take action on a nomination than to reject a nominee outright.

The Senate handles executive business, which includes both nominations and treaties, separately from its legislative business. All nominations reported from committee are listed on the Executive Calendar, a separate document from the Calendar of Business, which lists pending bills and resolutions. Generally speaking, the majority leader schedules floor consideration of nominations on the calendar. Nominations are considered in "executive session," a parliamentary form of the Senate in session that has its own journal and, to some extent, its own rules of procedure.

The question before the Senate when a nomination is called up is "will the Senate advise and consent to this nomination?" Only a majority of Senators present and voting, a quorum being present, is required to approve a nomination. Because nominations are vulnerable to filibusters, however, stronger support may be necessary. Cloture may be invoked to bring debate on a nomination to a close.

Nominations that are pending when the Senate adjourns or recesses for more than 30 days are returned to the President unless the Senate, by unanimous consent, waives the rule requiring their return (Senate Rule XXXI, clause 6). If a nomination is returned, and the President still wants a nominee considered, he must submit a new nomination to the Senate.