From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms
Executive Session / Executive Business / Secret Session
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(1) A meeting of a Senate or House committee (or occasionally of either chamber) that only its members may attend. Witnesses regularly appear at committee meetings in executive session – for example, Defense Department officials during presentations of classified defense information. Other members of Congress may be invited, but the public and press are not allowed to attend.
(2) A Senate meeting devoted to the consideration of treaties and nominations, called executive business because these categories of business are received by the Senate from the president, rather than introduced by senators.
Open Executive Session to Organize the Joint Select Committee
Secret sessions, also called closed sessions or executive sessions, are held in the House and Senate chambers, with the galleries closed to the press and the public. An executive session of the Senate should not be confused with executive business. Secret sessions are held at the request of any member, and are convened to discuss issues of national security, confidential information, and sensitive executive communications. Senate deliberations during impeachment trials may be held in secret session.
To convene in secret session, a member makes a nondebatable motion to resolve into secret session. Proceedings in secret session are not published in the Congressional Record unless the chamber votes to release them. Secret sessions are rare. Since 1929, when the Senate ended its practice of considering treaties and nominations behind closed doors, it has held fewer than sixty secret sessions, including six in 1999 to discuss impeachment proceedings against President Clinton. The last secret Senate session occurred in 2010 to discuss the New START Treaty. Since 1830, the House has met in secret session only a handful of times, the most recent in 2008 during debate on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
- Advice and Consent
- Precedents of the House of Representatives
- Terms and Sessions of Congress
- § 5.30 Terms and Sessions of Congress, § 6.180 Senate Calendars and Legislative and Executive Business before the Senate, Chapter 8, Legislating in Congress: Special Procedures and Considerations, in Congressional Deskbook
- Chapter 8.B. Nominations in Congressional Procedure
- Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – Wikipedia
- Senate’s Executive Calendar – Senate
- “Secret Sessions of Congress,” CRS Report RS20145 (10-page PDF)
- “Secret Sessions of the House and Senate: Authority, Confidentiality, and Frequency,” CRS Report R42106 (11-page PDF)
- “Supreme Court Nominations, 1789 to 2020: Actions by the Senate, the Judiciary Committee, and the President,” CRS Report RL33225 (58-page PDF)
- “The Senate’s Executive Calendar,” CRS Report 98-438 (6-page PDF)
- “Senate Consideration of Treaties,” CRS Report 98-384 (6-page PDF)
- “Senate Executive Business and the Executive Calendar,” CRS Report 98-709 (3-page PDF)
- “Senate Confirmation Process: A Brief Overview,” CRS Report RS20986 (8-page PDF)
- “Congress as a Consumer of Intelligence Information,” CRS Report R40136 (17-page PDF)
- “Secret Sessions of Congress: A Brief Historical Overview,” CRS Report RS20145 (10-page PDF)
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