In 10/20/2015 Speaker election, 434 members were present (435 minus Rep. Gregory Meeks [D]), I saw several members brought their kids to House floor but there were still 10+ vacant seats.

According to http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/House-Chamber/House-Floor/ "Today, 446 seats on the floor accommodate the Members of the House during their daily work." Has it changed recently?

How common is it for non-member (family, friends) to seat on House floor (not the gallery)?

What about seating in a joint session of congress (state of the union, pope visit etc.)? Do they temporarily add more seats to the House floor or put the additional members to the gallery? I remember Supreme Court justices sitting in the front of the House floor.

  • Keep in mind that the number of voting representatives and the number of representatives are different. DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands all have seats and members in the House, but despite being American Citizens, they have no votes in their own government.
    – David Rice
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 14:03

1 Answer 1


The number of Representatives hasn't changed since it was raised to 435 in 1911 (1). However, the number of seats in the chamber isn't fixed.

Assigned seating in the house was abolished in 1913, after almost 60 years of assigning them by lottery. These days, as best as I can tell, seating is "first come, first serve" at all times. Democrats traditionally sit to the right of the chamber (as seen from the Speaker's podium) and Republicans to the left, but there are no actual rules requiring this.

As for people on the floor, I'd be surprised if the children were actually there during the vote (but I didn't see it myself). There's a list of people who are allowed to be on the floor, or the hallways leading there, but they're all government positions (Congress, the President, SCOTUS Justices, various heads of departments, governors, offical clerks, etc.) or staff thereof. When the House isn't actively meeting, then there's a slightly broader list, which includes the "persons employed in [the House's service]" (i.e. the janitorial staff), the press, and guests of the Representatives - the last is where children and friends would fall. (2) The key here is that all these people (including the kids) needs to be cleared out 15 minutes before the House convenes for business.

The gallery on the other hand, is a different story. There is a section of one gallery set aside for guests of the Representatives (3), and another set aside for families (and guests thereof). That's not on the floor itself, though, and seating up there wouldn't be considered part of the "446 benches" you asked about.

Finally, I couldn't find anything definitive about what happens when the Senators visit for the State of the Union or other event. I presume they simply set up more chairs, and I found one mention of them getting the first few rows of seats, but nothing definitive.

1 Except for the four years between when Alaska and Hawaii became states and when the next census reapportioned seats. There's also five Delegates and a Resident Commissioner who are also part of the House, but not actually Representatives.

2 The full set of rules that I summarized here can be found in the Rules of the U.S. House of Representives, 114th Congress, Rule IV, Parts 1-3.

3 This is why you need to get a gallery pass from your Representative or their office if you want to visit, and can't just go as part of a general tour.

  • Thanks for the information. It seems Rule IV, Parts 1-3 is not strictly followed. The children were on the floor during the speaker election. Actually a representative's son actually cast the vote for "Paul" on behalf of his father. Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 5:24
  • @sdaffa23fdsf - Honestly, that doesn't surprise me much. As someone commented back to me recently, "It is an organization of law, primarily built by lawyers, as such the notion of 'precedent' is more important than actual statutes themselves".
    – Bobson
    Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 5:46
  • @sdaffa23fdsf - Also, I still haven't watched the whole thing, but kids on the floor are clearly visible at 1:19:56 of the C-SPAN video.
    – Bobson
    Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 5:47
  • @sdaffa23fdsf - And just to be even more pedantic about it, Rule III, 2. (a) explicitly says that "a Member may not authorize any other person to cast the vote of such Member". It's quite possible that if it was expected that the vote would be close, then that Representative (whoever it was) wouldn't have done that, because the losing party could potentially claim that that specific vote was illegitimately cast.
    – Bobson
    Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 6:05
  • There are more than 435 seats because a few seats are present for non-voting members from D.C., the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, etc. There are also a few non-member seats for staff who assist the Speaker in conducting proceedings. And the House chamber is where joint sessions of Congress are held, so there are provisions for up to 100+ extra seats on a temporary basis for special occasions.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 23:38

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