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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pro Forma Sessions

The New York Times reports:
To the rest of the world, Congress appears in recess. There are no House members milling about the halls, their tiny badges of office glinting on their lapels, and no senators sitting stiffly on the miniature underground trains that shuttle them from their offices to the floor. Nary a staff member zips madly across the marble floors, eyes trained perilously on a BlackBerry, racing to another meeting.

But Congress is actually in pro forma session, so at least one member of each chamber must show up every three days, gavel the session in and, barring any bits of minor business, bang the gavel a few moments later and head back home.

According to the Constitution, neither chamber of Congress may adjourn for more than three days without permission of the other. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, did not seek a resolution of adjournment this week, because he knew that the House would not go along, lest President Obama grab the opportunity for a recess appointment of any of the many nominees being blocked by Senate Republicans. (It is also likely that Mr. Reid felt no need to highlight his members’ desire to go home.)

“The use of pro forma sessions to block recess appointments is a very recent development,” said Katherine Scott, an assistant historian for the United States Senate Historical Office. “Republicans threatened it with President Clinton in the 1990s, but didn’t use it. Senator Reid was the first to declare, in 2007, that the Senate would hold pro forma sessions to block recess appointments.”
Here is Friday's entire Senate session, less than a minute long: