Following this question: Why is the Senate leader allowed to decide which bills to vote on? - how much power exactly does Senate Majority Leader have?

Let's suppose that the Senate is split 51-49 between the parties, and the majority party is split 26-25 between the hardliners and moderates. This means that the leader would be a hardliner.

Does this mean that even on an issue that has 74-26 support from the minority party and moderates, the leader can always preempt (or indefinitely postpone) voting, and there is nothing that 74 supporting senators can do?

P.S. I'm looking for any possible mechanism to overrule Senate Majority Leader, not the only ones coming from the office of Vice President.

  • Possible duplicate of Can the Vice President force the Senate to vote on something?
    – grovkin
    Jan 29, 2019 at 20:53
  • 1
    @grovkin related for sure, bit imho not giving the answer to my question.
    – Alexander
    Jan 29, 2019 at 20:57
  • The titles are different, but the content of the question contains the same inquiry and some of the answers to that question provide the answer to this question (that you asked) as well. Certainly the highest voted answer to that question answers this one as well.
    – grovkin
    Jan 29, 2019 at 21:02
  • 1
    @grovkin the highest voted answer provides some good information, but it does not answer the question whether senators have any mechanism to overrule the leader (apart from just sabotaging the process).
    – Alexander
    Jan 29, 2019 at 21:22

2 Answers 2


Pretty much that's how it is. The Majority Leader sets the schedule for the Senate floor, meaning no bill the Majority Leader doesn't want to bring will get floor time for debate and voting. Majority Leaders can do this on behalf of their party, or simply because they do not wish to consider it.

For instance, it was well known that Harry Reid was permanently opposed to patent reform, despite the fact that members of his own party were the ones drafting that legislation

But last May, Leahy announced that he was shelving his patent reform bill, and insiders told me he did this at Reid's request. Reid has a close relationships with trial lawyers' groups, who opposed the bill. Plaintiffs' lawyers were concerned that the bill's "loser pays" provision — which allows winning defendants in patent cases to collect legal fees from plaintiffs — could later be expanded to apply to non-patent cases.

To your second part

Does this mean that even on an issue that has 74-26 support from the minority party and moderates, the leader can always preempt (or indefinitely postpone) voting, and there is nothing that 74 supporting senators can do?

There is something they could do: they could vote in a new Majority Leader with the minority. Of course, that means a split with the party itself, and possibly an election of a member of the minority when your party holds the majority. As such, this type of action is pretty much unheard of, especially in modern times, where party loyalty is paramount.


If 74 Senators were in favor of accomplishing something, whether that be a bill or another matter, even considering the Majority Leader being opposed, little would practically stand in their way. The most glaring matter is if you have 74 Senators in favor of a matter (more than 3/5 (60) to invoke cloture, and 2/3 (67)) the Senators would be able to close debate and/or appeal rulings and precedent as necessary, or even invoke rule changes.

What follows below is a list of reasons and authorities backing up the previous point, but to speak to a practical point, they likely wouldn't be necessary. If the Majority Leader began attempting to block and interfere with the will of a supermajority of the Senate, who can (as shown below) bypass the Majority Leader, they are effectively weakening their own position and control over the Senate and schedule. With the 74 votes the Senators would be able to not only move and pass a motion to proceed to the measure, but also invoke cloture on the measure and ensure it reaches a vote and can't be filibustered. Arguably most Majority Leaders would allow such measures to come to floor for a vote, as to not effectively be undermined by the vast majority of the Senate (including members of their own party). Much of the Senate operates on custom/precedent and it would be in the Majority Leader's interest to maintain their power inline with precedent by not trying to obstruct a piece of legislation supported, again, by a supermajority. If it were closer to only a regular majority, than there is less they could do and the Majority Leader would have more grounding to attempt to obstruct, but even then the tactic could be questionable and cause a loss of faith among even their own caucus members.

Even barring my previous statements the answer is very simply yes, a majority of the Senate can set/ change the schedule if they so choose and current practice is mostly custom. (Especially with a motion to proceed + cloture)

Below is a variety of citations and quotes on the authority and tools the Senators would be able to use to achieve said goal.

motion to proceed to consider

A motion in the Senate, which, if agreed to by a majority of those present and voting, brings a measure (e.g., bill) or matter (e.g., nomination) before the chamber for consideration. Often referred to simply as a “motion to proceed.” https://www.congress.gov/help/legislative-glossary

General information regarding agenda setting:

Routine Agenda Setting One way in which the possibility of extended debate affects the Senate's procedures is in how the Senate determines its legislative agenda—the order in which it decides to consider bills and other business on the floor. When a Senate standing committee reports a bill back to the Senate for floor debate and passage, the bill is placed on the Senate's Calendar of Business (under the heading of "General Orders").

The Senate gives its majority leader the primary responsibility for proposing the order in which bills on the calendar should come to the floor for action. The majority leader's right to preferential recognition already has been mentioned, as has Senators' general willingness to relinquish to him the right to make the motion (provided for in the standing rules) for deciding the order of legislative business—namely, the motion that the Senate proceed to the consideration of a particular bill.

Whenever possible, however, bills reach the Senate floor not by motion but by unanimous consent. Under the Senate standing rules, the motion to proceed to a bill usually is debatable and, therefore, subject to a filibuster. (The question of proceeding to certain matters—for example, to a conference report or to executive session to take up and consider a nomination on the calendar—is not, however, subject to a filibuster, though the matter itself is.) Even before the bill can reach the floor (and perhaps face a filibuster), there may be extended debate on the question of whether the Senate should even consider the bill at all. https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/96-548.html

Further, again, even to the extent anything may violate Senate norms, or even rules, becomes effectively meaningless once you have 67 (2/3) Senators, let alone 74.

Enforcing the Senate Rules and Precedents The Senate's presiding officer (whether it is the Vice President or a Senator of the majority party) does not always call a violation of Senate rules to the chamber's attention.5 The Senate can violate its procedures unless a Senator, at the right moment, makes a point of order that the proposed action violates the standing rules, a constitutional provision, or another authoritative source of procedure (i.e., standing order, rulemaking statute, or unanimous consent agreement).6

When a point of order is raised, the presiding officer usually makes a ruling without debate. Under Rule XX, the presiding officer has the option of submitting "any question of order for the decision of the Senate." This is rare but may occur if the existing rules and precedents do not speak clearly on the parliamentary question at hand.7

Any Senator can appeal the ruling of the presiding officer on a point of order. The Senate might then decide, usually by majority vote, to uphold or overturn the presiding officer's decision.8 This vote establishes a precedent that guides the presiding officer in deciding future questions of order unless this precedent is overturned by another decision of the Senate or by a rules change. Some rulemaking statutes require a supermajority vote to overturn on appeal the presiding officer's ruling on a point of order.9

Parliamentary actions taken on the basis of an informal practice, or pursuant to a rule of one of the Senate's party conferences, are not enforceable on the Senate floor. While informal practices and party conference rules can affect actions taken in Senate committee and the Senate floor, they are not invoked through an exercise of the Senate's constitutional rulemaking authority. Hence, they do not have the authority of Senate rules and procedures. Informal practices evolve over the years as custom and party conference rules are adopted and enforced by each party. https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/RL30788.html

Further agenda setting information/ proceeding:

Offering Agenda-Setting Motions and Requests Under chamber rules, technically any Senator may offer the necessary agenda-setting motions "to proceed to the consideration" of a bill, resolution, or item of executive business. However, by long-established custom, in practice only the majority leader or his or her designee offer agenda-setting motions. (See CRS Report RS21255, Motions to Proceed to Consider Measures in the Senate: Who Offers Them?, by [author name scrubbed] and [author name scrubbed].) Items called up are often those on the Senate's legislative or executive calendars, either reported by committee or, in the case of bills and joint resolutions, placed on the legislative calendar directly under Rule XIV (see CRS Report RS22309, Senate Rule XIV Procedure for Placing Measures Directly on the Senate Calendar, by [author name scrubbed]).

Motion to Proceed Alternatively, the majority leader may move to proceed to the consideration of the measure or matter. Normally, this motion is debatable. Debate on the motion can be ended only by unanimous consent or by invoking cloture. If the motion to proceed is agreed to, consideration of the bill begins without debate limits (unless also imposed by unanimous consent or cloture).

There are few circumstances in which a motion to proceed is not debatable. Motions to take up certain privileged items of business (discussed in the next section) are not debatable. Although infrequently used, debate is also prohibited on motions to proceed offered on the beginning of a new legislative day during the "morning hour" after the completion of "morning business." Under Senate Rule VIII, a two-hour period known as the morning hour occurs automatically at the beginning of a new legislative day, and within this two-hour period, a period is reserved for the transaction of morning business, such as the filing of committee reports and the receipt of executive communications. Under this Rule VIII procedure, the motion to proceed is not debatable if offered during the morning hour. If the motion is agreed to, the measure becomes the pending business before the Senate. At the end of the morning hour, any unfinished legislative business pending on the previous day when the Senate adjourned will displace the measure just taken up.

The non-debatable motion to proceed under Rule VIII poses many parliamentary difficulties and is, therefore, rarely used by the majority leader. In actual practice, the Senate almost always begins a new legislative day under procedures established by unanimous consent, rather than relying on the automatic procedures for a morning hour contained in Rule VIII. Such unanimous consent agreements commonly include a stipulation that the morning hour be "deemed to have expired." https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/98-836.html

Motion to proceed/ bringing measures to the floor:

Bringing Measures to the Floor in the Senate In contemporary practice, bills and resolutions (collectively, "measures") normally reach the floor of the Senate for consideration either by unanimous consent or through agreement on a motion to proceed to consider (often called simply a "motion to proceed" or "MTP").1 Most measures considered today reach the floor by unanimous consent; the motion to proceed is normally reserved for situations when unanimous consent cannot be obtained. In consequence, measures called up by motion are more likely to be controversial or highly contested than those considered by unanimous consent.

Unanimous consent to consider a measure may be granted in the form of either (1) a simple request for unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to consider the measure, or (2) a broader unanimous consent agreement that typically also prescribes terms for consideration, such as limits on debate and amendments. If any Senator objects to such a request, in either form, a motion to proceed may then be offered. However, if the leadership is aware that objection would be raised to such a unanimous consent request, the majority leader (or a designee) may offer the motion to proceed without first seeking unanimous consent. In these instances, the majority leader often files a cloture petition at the time the motion to proceed is made.2

Senate Rule VIII, paragraph 2, which provides for the motion to proceed, places no restrictions on who may offer the motion.3 Nowadays, however, the Senate normally cedes to the majority leader the prerogative of calling up measures, either by motion or by unanimous consent. Absent this deference, it would be difficult for any majority leader to carry out his function of managing the schedule, and in recent decades a substantial majority of motions to proceed have been offered by the majority leader. Nevertheless, other Senators have made that motion as well, sometimes without direction from the majority leader. This report presents data on the total number of motions to proceed offered in each recent Congress, with particular attention to the small number of these motions not made by direction of the majority leader. https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/RS21255.html


I hope this helps.

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