Can the President Call Congress Back into Session?

Got an email this morning from AOSHQ reader Brennan:

People have been talking about the President calling Congress back to discuss gas prices for days now, using his powers in the Constitution. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), however, Tweeted this last evening:

“We would ask the Pres to call Congress into special session but the Senate used a sneaky trick to prevent this – they are still in session”

Is that legally the situation? Is President Bush unable to call Congress back (even the House) because the Senate is technically still in session?

What he describes—Congress not “officially” ending its session so as to prevent the President from doing something—has occurred several times before. Most recently, this past December, Senate Democrats left one member in Washington during the holiday break, who would call the chamber to order for a few minutes each day in order to keep President Bush from making recess appointments. (Democrats claimed it would also keep him from using a pocket veto, but that was not the case.)

Assuming Rep. Culberson is right about the Senate being in session, I think he’s wrong about calling a so-called “special session.” The Constitution says that the President “may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper…” So whether the Senate is technically still in session or not, the President cannot be prevented from calling the House back. The House has never, in the history of the Republic, been called into extra session by itself. But there is no constitutional barrier that would prevent the President from issuing a Proclamation (the usual means of convening an extra session) calling them back.

Whether the Senate could be convened depends on whether it is in session. Culberson seems to think that Senate Democrats have technically kept that chamber in business. I’m not sure. By 48-40, the Senate voted to adjourn this past Thursday. It sounds to me like they’re not in session. For what it’s worth, the last time an extra session was called, President Truman reconvened the 80th Congress after it had adjourned to escape the heat of Washington in summer. Sounds familiar, no?

The real question is whether Congress has actually adjourned, or whether it has merely taken a “recess.” If it’s just a recess, I don’t think the president can call them back.


~ by Gabriel Malor on August 4, 2008.

5 Responses to “Can the President Call Congress Back into Session?”

  1. Couldn’t you side step the issue of whether either or both houses are in session by being a bit more literal in the reading? It says the president may “convene” them – meaning cause to assemble; or to summon to appear. He could just say I want to see every member of the Congress at such and such time gathered together in their respective chambers for said reason.

  2. How much power would the members still in Washington have under Article I. Section 5. …but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner, and under such penalties as each House may provide.

    One more thing, this is a scary sentence when you stop and think about it: …and in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the time of adjournment, he (the President) may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper…

  3. Yeah, Kevin, I think that there are a whole lot of options left open by that text that past presidents and congresses have wisely let go unused.

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  5. your right and wrong about the president having the authority to call congress back to work. First of all under the powers vested in him he DOES have the authority to order congress back to work and the most recent instance of this happening was with then President Reagan..the last president to call a “special sessio” was as you assert president Truman. Our current President I think lacks the backbone to man up and insist congress bring its sorry behinds back to work. A more appropriate question would be the procedure to impeach members of congress who refuse to tackle the issues before them and for which they have been sent to washington to do…

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