Several articles have been talking about the implications of a potential Impeachment trial on the 2020 Democratic Primary. The implication that seems to repeat itself applies to senators running in the primary. Namely, if an impeachment trial were to occur, these Senators would likely have to be recalled to the Senate to participate in the trial. As NPR writes:

That would keep those six candidates stuck in Washington, acting as jurors – and out of Iowa and other key early states — in the critical final weeks before the caucuses.

"We will have to convene every day, six days out of seven," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently told reporters. President Bill Clinton's 1999 impeachment trial lasted more than a month. The only other impeachment trial in U.S. history, President Andrew Johnson's, ran on and off for more than two months.

This made me more curious about instances of required attendance in the legislative branch.

House Document 110-49

The wiki page on the Procedures of Congress does not mention anything about required physical attendance for the duration of any one specific procedure. In fact it mentions this about attendance, cited from House Document 110-49:


Due to the diverse nature of daily tasks that they have to perform, it is not practicable for Members to be present in the House or Senate Chamber at every minute that the body is in session. Furthermore, many of the routine matters do not require the personal attendance of all the Members. A system consisting of electric lights and bells or buzzers located in various parts of the Capitol Building and House and Senate Office Buildings alerts Members to certain occurrences in the House and Senate Chambers.

However, digging further in the cites document mentions this about compulsory attendance that is voted on:


Article I, Section 5, of the Constitution provides that a majority of each House constitutes a quorum to do business and authorizes a smaller number than a quorum to compel the attendance of absent Members. In order to fulfill this constitutional responsibility, the rules of the House provide alternative procedures for quorum calls in the House and the Committee of the Whole.

In the absence of a quorum, 15 Members may initiate a call of the House to compel the attendance of absent Members. Such a call of the House must be ordered by a majority vote. A call of the House is then ordered and the call is taken by electronic device or by response to the alphabetical call of the roll of Members. Absent Members have a minimum of 15 minutes from the ordering of the call of the House by electronic device to have their presence recorded. If sufficient excuse is not offered for their absence, they may be sent for by the Sergeant-at-Arms and their attendance secured and retained. The House then determines the conditions on which they may be discharged. Members who voluntarily appear are, unless the House otherwise directs, immediately admitted to the Hall of the House and must report their names to the Clerk to be entered on the Journal as present. Compulsory attendance or arrest of Members has been rare in modern practice.


Other than the 15 vote procedure mentioned above, are there other specific kinds of legislation or actions that compel legislators to physically sit in their chamber?

1 Answer 1


The Senate has four conditions under which it requires a quorum and may compel attendance as given below.

The House requires a quorum before votes but may also compel attendance under clause 5 of Rule XX (the 15-member rule).

Compelled attendance is rarely used but an interesting example is given at House of Representatives—Monday, November 2, 1987.

At noon, the House began its session. The first motion from the floor was to adjourn. That motion failed at 12:15. At 12:30, a motion was made to compel attendance (using what is now clause 5(a) of Rule XX). That vote failed. At 12:45, another motion to adjourn. That too failed. Another vote to compel attendance. This passed. Another motion to adjourn was made and passed. At 3:40, the House adjourned. Presumably, 211 members of the House never went to the House floor despite the rule compelling attendance being invoked.

See also, What stops a rogue Congressman from calling for a quorum every day?.

Quorum Requirements in the Senate: Committee and Chamber

There are instances when a quorum call is intended to bring Senators to the floor to register their presence. Four instances may result in such a situation, called a “live” quorum call: (1) under Rule XXII, immediately before any cloture vote; (2) under Rule XII, before the Senate acts on a unanimous consent request to set a date for voting on whether to pass a bill or joint resolution; (3) when the majority leader suggests the absence of a quorum and announces that there is to be a live quorum call because he wishes to bring Senators to the floor for some reason; or (4) when the clerk completes a routine quorum call without a majority of Senators having responded. Quorum calls for cloture and unanimous consent agreements are usually waived by unanimous consent. During a live quorum call, the clerk calls the names of Senators more quickly.

Voting and Quorum Procedures in the House of Representatives

The key rule governing attempts to secure the presence of a majority of Representatives on the floor during a meeting of the House is clause 7 of Rule XX, which states

(a) The Speaker may not entertain a point of order that a quorum is not present unless a question has been put to a vote. ...

Under subparagraph (a), a Member only has the right to invoke the constitutional quorum requirement when a vote is taking place. At that time, any Representative "may object to the vote on the ground that a quorum is not present and make a point of order that a quorum is not present." At any other time, the equivalent of a quorum call may take place only at the discretion of the Speaker, when he or she recognizes a Member "to move a call of the House."

In the unlikely event that a majority of the House fails either to respond to a quorum call or to participate in an electronic vote, the House’s failure to comply with the constitutional quorum requirement is demonstrated. Consequently, the House cannot resume legislative business until the presence of a quorum is recorded. The House has only two options: one is to adjourn; the other is to take steps necessary to secure the attendance of a quorum. In most cases, the House can be expected to adopt the second of these options by invoking clause 5(a) of Rule XX.

This clause provides in part that, "in the absence of a quorum, a majority comprising at least 15 Members, which may include the Speaker, may compel the attendance of absent Members."

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