U.S. Senate Still In Session While Some House Members Desire To Be Recalled

Posted Aug 6, 2008 by Sadiq Green
It has been reported with great fanfare, that Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives have remained in the Capitol to urge Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call back the Congress. What has hardly been reported is that the Senate is in session.
WASHINGTON: The US Capitol houses the legislative branch of the American government. The Senate occu...
WASHINGTON: The US Capitol houses the legislative branch of the American government. The Senate occupies the building's north wing and the House of representatives is housed in the south wing.
File Photo
Many House Republicans have been urging Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House, to call the Congress back into session for almost a week now. G.O.P. members have been in the chamber of the house giving speeches in front of an empty chamber with the official C-SPAN cameras and microphones off. They have resorted to using camcorders and camera phones to document the moment. They say that the urgent need for a remedy to the looming gas crisis is the basis for this remarkable occurrence. They and others have repeatedly beat up Speaker Pelosi on the issue.
The Republicans have also called on President Bush to call the congress back into session, but their plea has so far fallen on deaf ears as the President has not yet answered their call. They have not yet resorted to beating him up. A Representative from the President’s home state John Culberson (R-TX) has tried to inoculate him:
"We would ask the President to call Congress into special session but the Senate used a sneaky trick to prevent this - they are still in session" - 8/3/2008
The senate is indeed in session. On July 31st the Senate voted to close the session with a 48-40 vote. However Senate Democrats, convened a pro-forma session Tuesday. This is a procedure that keeps the Senate from officially adjourning and stops the President from making recess appointments.
According to the U.S. Constitution the Senate must confirm major presidential appointments and judicial nominations. However, when the Senate is out of session the president can make recess appointments that are not subject to confirmation hearings. These appointees can serve until the end of the congressional session, which at this point would be until Bush leaves office. During these sessions, which no legislative business is conducted, the Senate satisfies the constitutional obligation that neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other.
On Tuesday Senator Jack Reed, the junior Senator from Rhode Island, took less that half a minute to gavel in and out of the session. This process will be next repeated Friday and every three working days to keep the Senate from going into recess until the full House and Senate return in September. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used the pro-forma sessions successfully at the end of last year also. Reid blamed the president for the move, saying the White House had been stalling on Democratic-recommended positions to several independent agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which are by law required to have Democratic representation.
Senator Jim Webb of Virginia carried out that task one day late last year, wielding his gavel to an empty senate chamber. The freshman senator stated:
"I'd much rather be doing this than allow the president to skirt the confirmation process in the Senate. This is an exercise in protecting the Constitution and our constitutional process."
Among the more controversial recess appointments Bush has made have included John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations and Sam Fox, a GOP fundraiser and contributor to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during the 2004 presidential campaign, as Ambassador to Belgium.
Representative Culberson is not accurate in inferring that President Bush has his hands tied on calling back the House. His statement begs the question:
Is President Bush unable to call the House back even though the Senate is technically still in session?
According to the Constitution:
“The President may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper…”
The President cannot be prevented from calling the House back. The House has never, in the history of the Republic, been called into extra session by itself. But there is no constitutional barrier that would prevent the President from issuing a Proclamation (the usual means of convening an extra session) calling them back.
Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, currently recovering from 12 weeks of chemotherapy, has said he has written to President Bush urging that he recall the Congress to deal with the energy crisis.
Democrats call the G.O.P. protest a stunt and point out that Republicans have blocked numerous bills aimed at solving the crisis. Pelosi in a letter Tuesday to House Republican leader John Boehner said a majority of Republicans had voted against 13 Democratic-initiated energy and conservation bills.
"While a very small band of your colleagues remain on the House floor to discuss gas prices, their constituents deserve to know why their representatives in Congress have failed to support serious, responsible proposals." – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
On the Senate side, Republican Presidential hopeful John McCain has contributed to the mix calling on Congress to come back to deal with the energy issue. McCain says he would even come back to Washington for the session, which is remarkable, since the Senate has been dealing with energy quite a bit in recent weeks and Senator McCain hasn't voted since April 8th. Talk about MIA.