Committee Assignment Process in the U.S. Senate: Democratic and Republican Party Procedures Page: 4 of 15
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Committee Assignment Process in the U.S.
Senate: Democratic and Republican Party
Overview of Assignment Process
Committee sizes and ratios are determined before Senators are assigned to
committees. Although the size of each committee is set in Senate rules, changes to
these rules often result from interparty negotiations before each Congress. Senate
party leaders also negotiate the party ratio of each committee during the discussions
of committee size.
Senate rules call for the election of Senators to standing committees by the
entire membership of the chamber. Senate Rule XXIV, paragraph 1 states: "In the
appointment of the standing committees, or to fill vacancies thereon, the Senate,
unless otherwise ordered, shall by resolution appoint the chairman of each such
committee and the other members thereof."' These elections are based on
nominations made by the parties, but Senators do not officially take seats on
committees until they are elected by the entire Senate.
While Senate rules are fairly clear regarding how nominations are to be
approved, they do not address how the nominations of Senators to committees are to
be made. In practice, each party vests its conference with the authority to make
nominations to standing committees. Senate Republicans primarily use a Committee
on Committees for this purpose, although the Republican leader nominates Senators
for assignment to some standing committees. Senate Democrats use a Steering and
Coordination Committee to nominate Democrats for assignment to all standing
committees. The processes these two panels use are distinct, but the nominations of
each panel require the approval of the full party conference and, ultimately, the
Senate. Senate approval of the committee nominations of its parties usually is pro
forma because the Senate respects the work of each party.
It has been customary for third-party and independent Senators to caucus with
one of the major parties. At least for committee assignment purposes, such a Senator
is considered a member of that conference and receives his or her committee
assignments from that conference through its regular processes.
U.S. Congress, Senate, Standing Rules of the Senate, revised to April 27, 2000; S. Doc.
106-15, 106th Congress, 2nd sess. (Washington: GPO, 1999), p. 18.
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Committee Assignment Process in the U.S. Senate: Democratic and Republican Party Procedures, report, January 23, 2003; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc808693/m1/4/: accessed May 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.