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Senate, United States

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The upper house of the United States Congress. Two senators are elected from each state, regardless of state population, guaranteeing each state equal representation. Senators are elected for six-year terms. The Senate tends to respond more directly than the House of Representatives to issues of national, rather than local, concern, though both houses of Congress participate in all aspects of legislation and policymaking. The Senate has the exclusive right to try cases of impeachment, approve presidential appointments, confirm treaties, and elect a vice president if no candidate receives a majority from the Electoral College. The vice president serves as presiding officer of the Senate.

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

MORE ABOUT SENATE UNITED STATES

What is the Senate?

The Senate is one of the two houses of the United States Congress. Each state has two representatives in the Senate, which is commonly known as the “upper house.”

Congress is the legislative branch of the federal government, meaning it creates federal, or nationwide, laws. It is divided into two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The Senate is made of two members, known as senators, from each state, who are elected by citizens of that state. Senators serve six-year terms. These elections are scheduled so that around a third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years.

While either house can draft a law, both houses must vote on it and the bill must receive a majority vote in both houses in order to be given to the president, who then signs it into law.

The Senate and the House must also agree in order to exercise some of Congress’s other powers. Both houses must agree to declare war or create new taxes, for example.

However, the Senate also has several powers on its own, such as confirming federal judges, approving and amending international treaties, and conducting the trial of a person impeached by the House of Representatives. When a president is impeached, for example, evidence and witness testimony is presented only to the Senate, which determines if the president should be removed from office by a two-thirds vote.

Why is the Senate important?

The Senate, along with Congress as a whole, was established by the US Constitution, the document that serves as the fundamental law of the country. Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution states, “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”

Article I, Section 3 outlines the Senate’s structure and rules. The rest of Article I explains the specific powers that the Senate and the House of Representatives have as the two houses of Congress.

The word senate is much older than the United States. The first records of senate in English come from around 1175. It ultimately comes from the Latin senātus, meaning “council of elders.” The Roman Senate became a powerful council in Ancient Rome after the fall of the Roman monarchy around 500 B.C.

The activities of the Senate generally make the news more often than those of the House of Representatives. It’s smaller number of voters, longer term limits, and frequency of important votes often draw attention to the Senate. In particular, Supreme Court and Cabinet appointments are frequently covered (and sharply politicized) by the national media.

Did you know … ?

According to the Constitution, the country’s vice president is also the president of the Senate. Their only real power in this role is to cast the deciding vote in the case of a tie.

What are real-life examples of Senate?

This photograph shows the Senate gathered during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.

C-SPAN / Wikipedia

The Senate’s activities often make national headlines. Most Americans are very unhappy when the Senate takes action that contradicts their personal political views.

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

The US Senate has two members from each state.

How to use Senate, United States in a sentence

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