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Member Faqs


1. Who is a Member of Congress?

A Member of Congress is a person serving in the House of Representatives or the Senate. A Member of the House of Representatives is referred to as Representative or Congressman or Congresswoman, and a Member of the Senate is referred to as Senator.

2. Who is a Delegate? A Resident Commissioner?

The Office of Delegate was established by ordinance from the Continental Congress (1774–1789) and confirmed by a law of Congress. From the beginning of the Republic, accordingly, the House has admitted delegates from Territories or districts organized by law. Congress created the post of resident commissioner in 1900 to apply to Puerto Rico; the Philippines were granted resident commissioners several years later. Since 1946, only Puerto Rico has had a resident commissioner.

In most respects, delegates and the resident commissioner possess the same powers as other Members of the House. On the House Floor, they can speak, introduce bills and resolutions and offer amendments. All serve on committees of the House and possess powers and privileges equal to other Members in committee. Delegates may also vote while the House of Representatives is conducting business as the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union. Unlike Members of the House, however, they may not vote when the House is meeting as the House of Representatives.

Currently, there is one delegate for each of the following: the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands; as well as a resident commissioner from Puerto Rico. The formal duties of the delegates and the resident commissioner are identical; however, a delegate serves a two-year term, while a resident commissioner serves a four-year term.

3. Do Members take an Oath of Office when they enter the House of Representatives?

As required by Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution, Members of Congress shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support the Constitution. Representatives, delegates, and the resident commissioner all take the oath of office on the first day of the new Congress, immediately after the House has elected its Speaker. The Speaker of the House administers the oath of office as follows:

"I, (name of Member), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."

Representatives elected in special elections during the course of a Congress generally take the oath of office on the floor of the House Chamber when the Clerk of the House has received a formal notice of the new Member's election or appointment from State government authorities. On rare occasions, because of illness or other circumstances, a Member-elect has been authorized to take the oath of office at a place other than the House. In those circumstances, the Clerk of the House sees to the proper administration of the oath.

4. Are there requirements to become a Member of the House of Representatives?

Requirements for membership in the House of Representatives are provided in Article I, Section 2 of the US Constitution:

"No person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty five years, and been seven years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state in which he shall be chosen."

These requirements cannot be changed without a constitutional amendment.

5. When are the elections for the House of Representatives held?

General elections for the House of Representatives are held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November of even-numbered years.

View the list of Election Statistics from 1920-2008.

6. How is a Representative nominated and elected?

House candidates of major political parties are nominated by primary election in most states. Some states also provide for a party convention or committee recommendation in conjunction with a primary. In many states, no primary election is held for a particular office if the candidate is unopposed for nomination. Minor party candidates in most states are nominated according to individual party rules and procedures. Independent candidates are nominated by self-declaration.

Major party candidates are afforded automatic ballot access in all states, while minor party and independent candidates must meet various state requirements, such as submission of petition signatures of registered voters, in order to be placed on the general election ballot.

Representatives are elected by plurality vote in the congressional district in which they are candidates. The only major exception to this rule in Federal general elections is found in the District of Columbia, which requires that a candidate receive a majority of popular votes in order to be elected as its delegate to the House. A runoff election is scheduled in the event that no candidate receives the requisite majority. In addition, Louisiana requires that all candidates compete in an all-party primary election. A candidate winning a majority of votes under this arrangement is declared elected, and the general election is canceled for that office.

7. What is the size of the House of Representatives and how is it determined?

The current size, 435 Members, of the House of Representatives, was established by Public Law 62-5 on August 8, 1911 and took effect in 1913.

Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution provides for both the minimum and maximum sizes for the House of Representatives.

View the list of Representatives under each Apportionment

Further information on apportionment may be found at the US Census Bureau's web site from the Congressional Affairs Office page on Congressional Apportionment.

8. How many Representatives does each state have in the House?

Under the Constitution, each state is entitled to at least one Representative, serving a two-year term. Additional seats are apportioned on the basis of the state's population. Congress fixes the size of the House of Representatives, and the procedure of apportioning the number among the states. State legislatures pass laws determining the physical boundaries of congressional districts, within certain constraints established by the Congress and Supreme Court (through its reapportionment and redistricting rulings). Each state is apportioned its number of Representatives by means of the Department of Commerce's decennial census. Further information on current congressional districts may be found at the US Census Bureau's Congressional Affairs Office page on Congressional District Profiles.

9. Where are the Representatives' offices located?

Member offices are located in the three House office buildings to the south of the Capitol building. They include the Cannon, Longworth and Rayburn House office buildings along Independence Avenue. In addition, committee offices and support services are located in these three buildings as well as the Ford House office building. Leadership offices are located in the House wing of the Capitol building. The Web site of the Architect of the Capitol provides further information on the location and history of House office buildings. Representatives also maintain district offices in the states in which they were elected.

10. Are there assigned seats in the House Chamber for each of the Representatives?

The practice of assigned seating for members was abolished during the 63rd Congress in 1913. Now, Members may sit wherever they please. Generally, Democrats occupy the east side of the Chamber on the Speaker's right, while Republicans sit across the main aisle on the Speaker's left. The tables on either side of the aisle are reserved for committee leaders during debate on a bill reported from their committee and for party leaders.

11. How is a vacancy filled in the event of the death, resignation or declination
(refusal to serve) of a Representative?

The Constitution (Article I, Section 2, Clause 4) requires that all vacancies in the House of Representatives be filled by election. All states require special elections to fill any House seat which becomes vacant during the first session of a Congress. Procedures governing vacancies occurring during the second session of a Congress differ from state to state, and are largely dependent on the amount of time intervening between the vacancy and the next general election.

View the list of Congressional Vacancies.

12. What is meant by the term Member-At-Large?

A Member-At-Large is a Representative of the House of Representatives who has been elected by the voters of an entire state rather than by those in a specific congressional district. States with small populations have a Member-at-large. Consequently, there are only seven such states in the Union. They are Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.

13. What is the proper form for addressing a letter to a Member of Congress?

Acceptable forms of address for Members of the House include "The Honorable" and "Representative." Correspondence may be addressed as follows:

The Honorable J.Q. Smith
US House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515


Representative J.Q. Smith
US House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

14. What is the current salary level of Members of Congress and Senators?

The current salary for all Senators and Members is $174,000. The salary for the Speaker is $223,500 and the salary for the Majority and Minority Leaders is $193,400.

Source: Congressional Research Service, January 2009.

15. How many women are currently serving in Congress?

There are currently 76 women serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and 17 in the U.S. Senate.

Learn more about Women in Congress, 1917 to present.

16. Who are the Independent Members of Congress?

There are currently no Independents serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT) are currently serving in the U.S. Senate.

House Leadership & Officers

1. What is the role of the Speaker of the House?

The Speaker acts as leader of the House and combines several roles: the institutional role of presiding officer and administrative head of the House, the partisan role of leader of the majority party in the House, and the representative role of an elected Member of the House. By statute, the Speaker is also second in line, behind the Vice President, to succeed to the presidency.

View the list of Speakers of the House, 1789 to present.

2. How is the Speaker elected?

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution states: "The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers." The Speaker is elected by roll call vote when each new House first convenes. Customarily, the conference of each major party nominates a candidate whose name is placed in nomination. Although the Constitution does not require the Speaker to be a member of the House, all Speakers have been members. Members normally vote for the candidate of their own party conference, but could vote for any individual, whether nominated or not. To be elected, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of votes cast, which may be less than a majority of full membership of the House, because of absentees of Members voting "present." If no candidate receives the requisite majority, the roll call is repeated until a Speaker is elected.

3. What are the duties of the Speaker?

The Speaker presides over the House, administering the oath of office to Members, calling the House to order, and preserving order and decorum within the Chamber and in the galleries. Additionally, he appoints the chairmen to preside over the Committee of the Whole, appoints special or select committees, appoints conference committees, has the power of recognition of Members to speak, and makes many important rulings and decisions in the House. The Speaker may vote, but usually does not, except in the case of a tie. The Speaker and the Majority Leader determine the legislative agenda for the House, often confer with the President and the Senate, and are regarded as spokesman for the Administration if they and the President belong to the same political party.

4. What are party or floor leaders?

The political parties in the House elect leaders to represent them on the floor, to advocate their policies and viewpoints, to coordinate their legislative efforts, and to help determine the schedule of legislative business. The party or floor leaders also serve as spokespersons for their parties and for the House as a whole. Because of its larger membership, the House required Majority and Minority Leaders in the 19th century to expedite legislative business and to keep their parties united.

View the list Floor Leaders of the House of Representatives, 1899 to present

5. How are party leaders selected?

The majority party members and the minority party members meet in separate caucuses to select their leader. Third parties rarely have had enough members to elect their own leadership, and independents will generally join one of the larger party organizations to receive committee assignments.

6. What are party Whips?

In addition to the majority and minority party leaders, each party elects assistant leaders, or "Whips." The Whips assist the leadership in managing the party's legislative program on the floor of the House and provides information to party members about important legislative-related matters. The Whips keep track of all politically important legislation and ensure that all members of their parties are present when important measures are to be voted upon. When a vote appears to be close, the Whips contact absent members of their party and advise them of the vote. Due to the larger number of members in the House of Representatives, House Whips appoint "deputy whips" to assist them in their activities. In addition, the House Democrats elect a number of "zone whips," chosen by Democrats from particular regions of the country to assist in the informational activities of party leadership.

View the list of House Democratic Whips, 1901 to present
Or House Republican Whips, 1897-present

7. What are party caucuses or conferences and party committees?

A party caucus or conference is the name given to a meeting, whether regular or specially called, of all party members in the House. The term "caucus" or "conference" can also mean the organization of all party members in the House. House Democrats refer to their organization as the Democratic Caucus, while House Republicans refer to their organization as the House Republican Conference.The party caucus or conference officially elects party floor leaders; the party whips nominate each party's candidates for the Speakership and other offices in the House. The chairs of the party conferences, and other subordinate party leaders are elected by vote of the caucus or conference at the beginning of each Congress. Regular caucus or conference meetings provide a forum in which party leaders and rank-and-file party members can discuss party policy, pending legislative issues and other matters of mutual concern.

The party caucus or conference traditionally establishes party committees with specialized functions. Party committees generally nominate party members to serve on the various committees of the House, subject to the approval by the caucus or conference. Party policy committees generally discuss party positions on pending legislation. Majority party steering committees (the minority party traditionally has none) generally plan the schedule of Chamber action on pending legislation. Party research committees conduct studies on broad policy questions, generally before committees of the House begin action on legislation. Party campaign committees provide research and strategy assistance to party candidates for election to the House. The chairs of the party committees are generally elected by the party caucus or conference; the exception is the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee which is chaired by the Speaker of the House (when the Democrats are in the majority) or by the Democratic Floor Leader (when they are in the minority).

The caucus or conference may also decide to appoint "task forces" to perform research on a new policy proposal, or to assist the formal leadership in developing a party position on important legislation. These "task forces" are traditionally disbanded once their work has been completed.

View the list of House Democratic Caucus Chairman, 1849 to present
Or House Republican Conference Chairman, 1863 to present

8. What is a caucus?

Caucuses, or legislative service organizations, are voluntary organizations whose membership consists of Members of Congress. They do not have any explicit basis or direct recognition in House or party rules. Caucuses may serve any of several functions, including: compiling, analyzing and distributing information; developing and mobilizing support for legislative proposals; advocating positions and issues; and providing representation for specific elements in national as well as Members' constituencies.

View the list of current Congressional Member Organizations (CMOs)

9. Who are the officers and officials of the House, and what are their duties?

Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution empowers the House of Representatives to choose its Speaker and other officers. The Constitution does not specifically identify the other officers, who currently are the clerk, sergeant at arms, chief administrative officer, and chaplain. These officers are elected at the beginning of each Congress (Rule II).

The Clerk of the House, as the chief legislative officer, directs administrative activities that support the legislative process such as keeping the Journal, recording all votes, certifying bill passage, and processing all legislation.

View the list of Clerks of the House, 1789-present.

The Sergeant at Arms is the chief law enforcement officer for the House, and is responsible for maintaining security, order, and decorum in the House Chamber, House wing of the Capitol, and House office buildings.

The Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) is responsible for certain administrative and financial activities that support the operations of the House, including the finance office, Members' accounts, information resources, human resources, office systems management, furniture, office supplies, postal operations, food services, and various media services.

The Chaplain of the House opens each legislative session with a formal prayer, a custom since the First Congress. The Chaplain provides pastoral counseling to Members, their families, and staff. Guest Chaplains of various denominations regularly offer the prayer.

Office of the Clerk - U.S. Capitol, Room H154, Washington, DC 20515-6601 | (202) 225-7000

For general inquiries: info.clerkweb@mail.house.gov
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