Understanding Congress

The House of Representatives is one of the two chambers of the United States Congress; the other is the Senate. Each state receives representation in the House in proportion to its population (there is a minimum of one Representative per state). Rhode Island currently has 2 representatives, David Cicilline and myself. Below are answers to some common questions about Congress and links to additional information related to the legislative process. Click on the questions to jump to the answers.

How are laws made?
How many members of Congress are there?
How long do members of Congress’s terms last?
What does a member of Congress do?
How can I tell what is currently happening on the House floor?
How can I watch the proceedings on the House floor?
How does a Representative introduce a bill?
How do I find out the status of a particular bill in the House of Representatives or the Senate?
What is the Congressional Record?
What is a roll call vote?
What is a Congressional recess?
What is the 114th Congress?

 

How are laws made?

According to the U.S. Constitution, Congress is responsible for making all federal laws. The legislative process involves a number of steps. A bill is introduced in either chamber; committees hold hearings and markups; the whole chamber votes on it; it is passed to the other chamber for a vote; any differences between the the two chambers are resolved; and it is presented to the President for his signature or veto. My Legislative Process page has a more comprehensive overview of each of the steps.

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How many members of Congress are there?

There are 435 voting members in the House of Representatives and 100 members in the Senate. In addition, there are 5 non-voting delegates in the House from Washington, DC; American Samoa; Guam; the U.S. Virgin Islands; and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. The Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico is also a non-voting member of the House.

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How long do members of Congress’ terms last?

Members of the House of Representatives serve two-year terms; elections for each seat are held every even numbered year. Senators serve six-year terms with a third of the Senate seats open every even numbered year. There are no limits on how many terms a Representative or Senator may serve.

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What does a member of Congress do?

Members of Congress are responsible for representing the people of their district in the United States Congress. Part of this responsibility is writing and voting on bills in the U.S. Congress. All bills must pass Congress before they can go to the President to be signed into law. To assist in crafting legislation, I serve on two committess: the Committee on Armed Services and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

In order to do my job well, I spend a lot of my time meeting with Rhode Islanders to tell them about what is happening in government and to listen to their ideas about how to improve life in the 2nd District. Please feel free to email me if you have thoughts on pending issues before the House.

Another important part of my job is to help constituents if they have a problem with the federal government.

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How can I tell what is currently happening on the House floor?

When the House is in session, activities on the House floor are updated live by the House Clerk. The Minority Whip, Rep. Steny Hoyer, also maintains a daily and weekly floor schedule. You may also view the official House calendar.

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How can I watch the proceedings on the House floor?

C-SPAN, the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, broadcasts every minute of House floor proceedings live. When the House is not in session, C-SPAN features other policy oriented content including some committee hearings. In Rhode Island, C-SPAN is available on channels 21 or 76 (Cox); 350 (DirecTV); 210 (DISH Network); and 109 (Verizon FiOS). You can also find C-SPAN content streamed live on the web. Senate floor proceedings are featured on C-SPAN2.

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How does a Representative introduce a bill?

Before a bill is introduced, it is typed on a special House form and signed by the Representative who will introduce it. A Representative may introduce a bill any time the House is in session by placing it in a special box known as the “hopper,” which is located on the Clerk’s desk on the House floor.

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How do I find out the status of a particular bill in the House of Representatives or the Senate?

THOMAS, a website provided by the Library of Congress, is Congress's public legislative search engine. You can use it to look up legislation and public laws, monitor floor votes and proceedings, and stay informed about what’s going on in Congress. The full compilation of federal laws is contained in the U.S. Code.

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What is the Congressional Record?

The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of Congress. It is published by the United States Government Printing Office and is issued daily when Congress is in session. You can search the Congressional Record via THOMAS.

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What is a roll call vote?

A roll call vote is a vote in which the names of those voting for and against a bill are recorded. Not all votes are taken this way. In the House, legislation can also be decided by voice vote, which is not recorded -- members are just asked to respond verbally with “aye” or “no” on a bill.

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What is a Congressional recess?

A Congressional recess, or district work period, is a period in the legislative calendar where no votes are scheduled in Washington, DC. This allows Members to return to their districts to meet with constituents and develop new legislative proposals. A Congressional recess is not a vacation — my offices are open both in and out of recess, and I continue to hold official events throughout recesses.

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What is the 114th Congress?

Since every seat in the House is up for election every two years, after each election a new Congress is convened. There have been 114 Congresses since the first one sat in 1789. The 114th Congress covers the years 2015-16.

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