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Hotlines in the United States Senate

You may have noticed that I recently posted a blog post that included something called a “hotline.”  Let me take a moment to explain what this is.   The Senate uses a process akin to the old book of the month clubs to pass much of it’s legislation.  For most legislation, if someone doesn’t say “no” the bill is passed and shipped off to the President or the House of Representatives.   [The hotline is also sometimes used to conduct Conference business and announce deadlines (amendment filing, etc.) and events (conference meetings and briefings), but this post will focus on the legislative side of the hotline.]

For the Republican Conference the Republican Leader notifies offices via email of a matter they would like to “hotline.” (The Dems have a hotline as well.)  Most hotlines are requests to pass a matter by unanimous consent.   These hotlines are “run” with the acquiescence of the Leader and the Ranking Member of the Committee of jurisdiction.  Sometimes the matter is widely available and well known and sometimes text isn’t widely available and has to be sussed out from the cloakroom and the committee staff working the issue.

If a Senator has an objection to that bill they (or more often their staff) call in to the cloakroom and notify them that their Senator objects to the unanimous consent request.   After a certain period of time, if no one has objected, the item will be considered “cleared” and will be included in “wrap-up.”   “Wrap-up” is a process at the end of the evening where the Majority Leader in rapid fire succession passes the matters cleared by the hotline.  I’ll try to provide a recording of this at some point in the near future.

Hotlines can get complicated with things like Live UCs, modifications of UCs and all kinds of fun floor shenanigans.  I’m not going to write a treatise on those right here.  My point in posting the hotlines is to give the public a greater insight into what the Senate is considering.   The hotline is an important tool in the day to day operation of the Senate and the public should have a better understanding of how it works.   Sometimes the matters are mundane and routine, sometimes they’re very substantive.  I’ll let “You make the call.”

I will try to post these in as close to real time as possible, but near the end of a work period when a recess is looming these things can come fast and furious, and sometimes late at night.  I could be sleeping.   

For a more analytical discussion of the hotline process, here is a blurb from a CRS report from a few years ago.  


It is often possible for the Senate to approve a measure by unanimous consent, with few or no amendments and with virtually no discussion. Nearly every day the Senate is in session, the majority and minority leaders consult to identify bills and resolutions that have been “cleared” by the Senators in both parties. A measure is considered cleared if no Senator has responded to a party leadership request to inform leadership that he or she is opposed to passage of the measure without debate.

To clear measures for passage, party leaders contact each Senate office, relying in part on an automated telephone system known as the “hotline.” Every Senate office has a telephone line dedicated to receiving recorded messages from the Democratic and Republican Cloakrooms. Sometimes the messages, similar for both parties, state that the party leader would like unanimous consent for the Senate to call up and approve a measure. If a Senator is opposed to passing or agreeing to the measure in the stated time frame and without floor debate, the recorded message directs the office to contact the appropriate party cloakroom.

The telephone hotline helps leadership inform Senators of measures intended to be proposed for approval by unanimous consent. Senators also sometimes discuss measures among themselves in informal settings. Requests to put measures on the hotline often originate with committee leaders or sponsors of measures, and these Senators and their staff work to inform their colleagues of measures proposed to be cleared and, when necessary, to negotiate changes to the legislation. The nature and extent of these informal, private discussions that take place prior to inclusion of the legislation on the hotline cannot be quantified.

Once a group of measures has been cleared, the majority leader or his designee seeks recognition on the Senate floor and asks for unanimous consent to call up and pass them, either in sequence or en bloc, usually identifying the measures by their bill number as well as by their legislative calendar order number. The leader also proposes at this time any amendments on which the interested Senators may have agreed in advance. Action on these amendments also may occur by unanimous consent, often as part of the same unanimous consent request by which the measure is called up and passed. Each measure is called up and passed in a matter of minutes or less.
The “Clearance Process” in the Senate and Measures Approved in the 110th Congress through June 30, 2008