Heard on the Hill

Flashback Friday: Recess Cancellations

Other times when Senate recesses were either scrapped or interrupted

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate is working most of August. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate has taken an August recess since the so-called Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 provided for it.

The legislation, which aimed to “improve the operation of the legislative branch of the Federal Government,” overhauled internal procedures for both the House and the Senate.  

President Richard Nixon signed the bill into law in October 1970. Other changes introduced included making committee hearings public and allowing electronic voting in the House chamber (which went into operation in January 1973).

The Senate doesn’t have time for a full recess this year after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the chamber will be in session through much of August.

This isn’t the first time this has happened in the Senate. Here are a few earlier instances, courtesy of the Senate Historical Office. 

October 1989: Majority Leader George J. Mitchell canceled a weeklong recess so the chamber could complete the deficit-reduction bill before automatic cuts took effect.

January 1991: Congressional leaders canceled recess ahead of the Gulf War to allow lawmakers to remain available in case they had to act.

August 1994: As Congress was debating health care and crime legislation, members did not adjourn for recess until Aug. 25 and stayed away until Sept. 12.

September 2005: The Senate interrupted its August recess, convening on Sept. 1 to pass an emergency relief bill in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Majority Leader Bill Frist led a 28-minute session, starting at 10:02 p.m., and the chamber then returned its recess until Sept. 6.

July 2011: Majority Leader Harry Reid canceled the usual July Fourth recess so the Senate could work on the federal debt limit and the U.S. involvement in the NATO-led intervention in Libya. Senators reported to work on July 5 for the first time in 37 years. 

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