Learn what the Senate Parliamentarian does

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Len Rome's Daily Feature of Little Known Facts

Who is the Senate parliamentarian?

He or she is a nonpartisan, nonelected government official who can make decisions affecting all our lives.

On Sunday, September 19th, Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough decided that the democrats could not use their planned three and and a half trillion dollar spending plan to put millions of illegal immigrants on the path to citizenship.


MacDonough said it didn’t belong in there. Who gave her that power? Think of the parliamentarian as an umpire.

She explains the Senate’s rules and how to how to apply them. She offers guidance on how bills move through the Senate and through which committees.


Senators and their staffs deal with many complex bills. They need clear, nonpartisan and confidential advice.

The Senate established the Office of the Parliamentarian in 1935, and since then, there have been just eight of them.


The Senate majority leader appoints the Parliamentarian. MacDonough has her own staff available to answer every senator’s question.


When the Senate is in session, the parliamentarian is always seated at the podium below the presiding officer’s desk.


The House of Representatives has its own Parliamentarian, appointed by the Speaker. Right now, it’s Jason Smith. The Parliamentarian, or an assistant parliamentarian, usually sits or stands to the right of the Speaker.

Overruling either parliamentarian is rare. To find a recent example, you have to go back to 1975 when Vice President Nelson Rockefeller overruled the Senate parliamentarian on an obscure bill no one today remembers.

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