Order Code 98-397 GOV
December 6, 2006
Guide to Individuals Seated on
the Senate Dais
Specialist in American Government
Government and Finance Division
The Senate meets in the Capitol in the Senate chamber. Seated at the head of the
chamber on the top of a two-tiered platform/dais is the presiding officer. Members are
assigned to one of the 100 desks that are arranged in a semicircle facing the presiding
officer. The center aisle in the Senate chamber divides the political parties. Facing the
presiding officer, Republicans sit to the right of the center aisle, Democrats to the left.
Senior Members usually sit the closest to the dais and along the center aisle, although
some choose other desks. Seated around the presiding officer are various officers and
employees of the Senate who have defined roles, some of which are prescribed in Senate
rules and others of which are derived from precedent. This fact sheet is one of a series
on the legislative process. For more information on the legislative process, please see
[http://www.crs.gov/products/guides/guidehome.shtml]. An illustration of the Senate
chamber can be found on the Internet at [http://www.senate.gov/vtour/3high.htm].
Presiding Officer. The Vice President of the United States is the President of the
Senate and its presiding officer. He usually assumes this role only during ceremonial
functions; when key administration issues are being debated; or if a pending vote is
expected to be close (he can only vote to break a tie). In his absence, the President pro
tempore, the senior Senator from the majority party, fills the role of presiding officer.
However, other members of the majority party usually serve as the presiding officer on
a rotating basis throughout a day’s session. The presiding officer sits in the front of the
chamber on the upper tier of the rostrum/dais. Below the presiding officer are other
Sergeant at Arms. The Sergeant at Arms or a deputy is seated to the left of the
presiding officer (as viewed from the rear of the chamber). The Sergeant at Arms is the
chief law enforcement and protocol officer in the Senate and is responsible for preserving
order and decorum on the Senate floor and in the galleries. This officer is also the
principal manager of many of the Senate’s support services.
Secretary of the Senate. This chief administrative and budgetary officer of the
Senate is seated to the right of the presiding officer (as viewed from the rear of the
chamber). Except for ceremonial and other special occasions, the secretary spends very
little time on the dais. The Secretary’s office oversees a variety of services that support
the legislative operation of the Senate, including record keeping and document
management. In the absence of the Vice President and pending the election of the
President pro tempore, the Secretary performs the duties of the chair.
Party Secretaries. Seated slightly behind and to the right of the presiding officer
(as viewed from the rear of the chamber) is the secretary to the Senate Republicans;
behind to the left is the secretary to the Senate Democrats. These two officials, elected
by their parties, are responsible for providing support services to their respective
leadership and Members. Their floor-related duties include supervision of their party
cloakrooms and briefing Senators on pending votes and issues. Seated next to the two
secretaries are the assistant secretary to the Senate Democrats and the assistant secretary
to the Senate Republicans.
Seated directly in front of the presiding officer and on the lower/front tier of the dais
are four legislative officials who are under the supervision of the Secretary of the Senate.
They are the journal clerk, the Parliamentarian, the legislative clerk, and the assistant
secretary of the Senate.
Journal Clerk. To the far left of the dais is the journal clerk, who records the daily
minutes of the Senate and prepares them for publication in the Senate Journal, the official
record of proceedings required by the Constitution. The journal clerk also prepares a
history of bills and resolutions for inclusion in the Senate Journal.
Parliamentarian. Seated to the right of the journal clerk is the Senate
Parliamentarian. He maintains and advises on the precedents and practices of the Senate
for the presiding officer and other Senators, and assists in the referral of bills to Senate
committees. He also is the Senate’s official timekeeper.
Legislative Clerk. The legislative clerk, seated to the right of the Parliamentarian,
is the reading clerk of the Senate. This clerk calls and records the roll for all votes and
quorum calls, maintains official copies of measures pending before the Senate, receives
all proposed and adopted amendments, and, at the direction of the presiding officer, reads
aloud all bills and amendments, presidential messages, House messages, and other
Assistant Secretary. The assistant secretary of the Senate has a seat at the far
right of the lower tier of the dais. The assistant secretary is the Secretary’s chief assistant
and supervises the day-to-day administration of the office.
Front of Dais
Official Reporters of Debate. Directly in front of the dais are two tables for the
official reporters of debate. They prepare the Senate business for publication in the