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United States Senate

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The United States Senate is the upper house of the Congress of the United States, whose lower house is the U.S. House of Representatives. Together, they comprise the legislative branch of the United States government. Each state elects two senators through state-wide elections. If a vacancy occurs between elections, generally the governor of the state appoints a replacement to serve as senator until the next biennial election. The Senate chamber is located in the south wing of the U. S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C..

The first session of Senate to be open to the public was held on February 11, 1794 and on February 27, 1986 the Senate allowed its debates to be televised on a trial basis (which was later made permanent).

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  • Constitutional authority: The Senate is responsible for confirming important Presidental appointments, particularly federal judges.

Unlike the United States House of Representatives there are no strict rules regarding the debate, and one strategy used by senators to kill a bill is to filibuster which is to continue to debate the bill thereby preventing its passage. On March 8, 1917 the power of the filibuster was considerably reduced by the cloture rule[?] in which 60 senators can sign a petition to end debate (the initial version of the rule called for 2/3 but that was latter reduced to 60). The first ongoing filibuster in the Senate began on February 18, 1841 and lasted until March 11.

The longest filibuster in the US Senate was delivered by Strom Thurmond. He spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an unsuccessful attempt to block the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He began by reading the entire text of each state's election laws.

Because the Senate is smaller, the committees within the Senate are generally less powerful than the corresponding ones in the House. The exceptions to this are the Senate Judiciary Committee which reviews Presidental appointments to Federal judgeships, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which reviews treaties.

Composition and elections With two Senators from each state, the Senate presently has 100 members. Senators serve for terms of six years; the terms are staggered so that approximately one-third of the Senate is up for election every two years: each time there are elections in about 33 states for one of the two seats. They coincide with the elections for the House of Representatives; alternately they coincide with the presidential election; when they do not, they are called mid-term elections.

When the major parties are evenly split, the party affiliation of the Vice President, as the tie-breaker vote, determines which is the majority party.

For details, see the list of United States Senators.

During the 108th Congress (2003-2005)

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+Republicans: 51 -Independent: 1 (James Jeffords[?] (I-VT) votes with the Democrats.)
*Democrats: 48 +

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