Joint session of the United States Congress

Joint session of the United States Congress

Joint sessions of the United States Congress are the gatherings together of both houses of the United States Congress (the House of Representatives and Senate). Joint sessions are held on special occasions such as the State of the Union Address and presidential inaugurations.

Forms of joint session and joint meeting

While any meeting of both House and Senate of the U.S. Congress is commonly called a joint session, there is a distinction between the terms "joint session" and "joint meeting":
* "Joint session" of congress requires a concurrent resolution from both House and Senate to meet. Joint sessions include the counting of electoral votes following a presidential election and the State of the Union, as well as other addresses by the President.
* "Joint meetings" occur with unanimous consent to recess and meet. These are usually convened to hear addresses from U.S. officials other than the President, or for foreign dignitaries.

Meetings of Congress for presidential inaugurations are a special case called "formal joint gatherings", but may also be joint sessions if both houses are in session at the time.

Joint sessions and joint meetings are traditionally presided over by the Speaker of the House and take place at the House chamber. However, the Constitution requires the Vice President (as President of the Senate) to preside over the counting of electoral votes.

State of the Union

At some time during the first two months of each session, the President customarily delivers the State of the Union Address, a speech in which he assesses the situation of the country and outlines their legislative proposals for the congressional session. The speech is modeled on the Speech from the Throne, given by the British monarch.

The Constitution of the United States requires that the president "shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union," but does not specify whether the information should be given in a speech or a written report.

The first two presidents, George Washington and John Adams, delivered the speech in person before both houses of Congress, but that practice was discontinued under Thomas Jefferson, who deemed it too monarchical and sent written reports instead. Written reports were standard until 1913, when Woodrow Wilson reestablished the practice of personally attending to deliver the speech. Few Presidents have deviated from this custom since. []

ubjects of joint sessions and meetings

In addition to State of the Union Addresses, inaugurals and counting of electoral votes, Joint Sessions usually fall into one of several topics.

Foreign dignitaries

Foreign heads of state and heads of government from 48 countries have addressed joint meetings of Congress more than a hundred times. Heads of state or government from the United Kingdom have addressed joint meetings the most often (eight times); Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed Congress three of those eight times. Joint meetings have been addressed four times by Irish heads of government–by Taoisigh (Prime Ministers) Liam Cosgrave, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, John Bruton and Bertie Ahern—and twice by Irish heads of state, Presidents Éamon de Valera and Seán T. O'Kelly. [RTÉ One television, Six One News, 19 February 2008]

Twice have joint meetings been attended by dignitaries from two countries: On September 18, 1978, when Congress was addressed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and on July 26, 1994, when Congress was addressed by King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Presidential addresses

In addition to State of the Union Addresses, Presidents deliver addresses to Congress on specific subjects. The first such speech was delivered by John Adams on the subject of U.S. relations with France. The most popular subjects for such addresses are economic, military and foreign policy issues.

Some of these addresses, such as Bill Clinton's 1993 Economic Address and George W. Bush's Budget Message of 2001, are sometimes wrongly labeled as State of Union Addresses. [] []

Military leaders

Joint sessions are sometimes called to hear addresses by generals, admirals, or other military leaders. Perhaps the most notable example is Douglas MacArthur's to Congress.


Six times in the first decade of the Space Age, Congress jointly met to be addressed by astronauts after their trips in space.


Nine times, Congress has jointly met to hold a memorial service for a deceased President or former President. Congress has also met to memorialize Vice President James Sherman and the Marquis de Lafayette.


Congress sometimes meets to mark the anniversary of an historical event or of a presidential birthday. The first such occasion was the centennial of George Washington's first inauguration in 1889. Congress has met to mark the centennial of the birth of each President since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The next Presidential centennial will be Lyndon Johnson's on August 27, 2008. It is not yet known whether Congress will hold a joint meeting or not.

Historic joint sessions

* The first occurrence of a "joint session" was on April 6, 1789 at Federal Hall in New York City during the 1st Congress, for the counting of electoral votes.
* The first formally recorded "joint meeting" occurred in December 18, 1874 during the 43rd Congress in Washington, D.C., as a reception of Kalākaua of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Because of a severe cold and hoarseness, the King could not deliver his speech, which was read by former Representative Elisha Hunt Allen, then serving as Chancellor and Chief Justice of the Hawaiian Islands.


* cite web
title=Joint Meetings, Sessions, Inaugurations
publisher=Office of the Clerk, House of Representatives, US Capitol
work=Congressional History
accessmonthday=January 23

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