HOUSE RULES WHICH GOVERN THE COMMITTEE HEARING PROCESS
Notice (Clause 2(g)(3) of Rule XI) - The Chair must publicly announce the date, place and subject matter of a hearing at least one week which is published in advance in the Daily Digest of the Congressional Record, unless:
- the Chair with the concurrence of the ranking minority member, or
- the committee by majority vote of a business transaction quorum
determines there is good cause to begin the hearing sooner. In case of a good cause waiver, the hearing announcement must be published as soon as possible.
Open Hearings (Clause 2(g)(2) and Clause 2(k)(5) of Rule XI) - Hearings must be open to the public and the media unless the committee or subcommittee, in open session and with a majority of its Members present, decides by a record vote that all or part of that day’s hearing should be closed because disclosure would:
- defame, degrade or incriminate any person,
- endanger national security,
- compromise sensitive law enforcement information, or
- violate a rule of the House.
When a quorum to hear testimony is present, a majority of those Members may close a hearing to discuss whether the upcoming testimony would violate any of the above. A committee may also vote to close one additional day of hearings using the above procedures (except Appropriations, Armed Services, and Intelligence which may close up to five additional days of hearings).
There are generally three different types of motions with respect to closing hearings, all of which are non-debatable.
- Motion to close;
- Motion to close pending discussion; or
- Motion to close an additional day of hearings.
Whenever it is asserted that upcoming testimony would tend to defame, degrade or incriminate any person, the testimony must be taken in closed session if a majority of Members, with a testimony quorum present, determine the assertion has merit (clause 2(K)(5)(A) of rule XI).
Testimony taken in executive session may only be released by a majority vote of the committee (clause 2(K)(7) of Rule XI).
Hearing Quorum Requirements (Clause 2(h) and Clause (2)(m)(1) of Rule XI) -
- For taking testimony, the quorum is set by a committee’s rules, but is never less than two Members.
- For waiving the hearing notice requirement, the quorum is set by a committee’s rules, but is never less than 1/3 of the Members.
- For authorizing a subpoena or closing a meeting or hearing (except under clauses 2(g)(B) or 2(K)(5)(A) of Rule XI), the quorum is a majority of Members of the committee.
Witness Requirements (Clause 2(g)(4) of Rule XI) - To the greatest extent practicable, witnesses are required to file with the committee advance copies of:
- their written statements, and
- non-governmental witnesses must also file a resume and the amount and source of any federal grant or contract funding from the government received during the current and two preceding fiscal years.
The deadline for advance filing is set by each individual committee’s rules. No point of order lies against a witness’ failure to comply with this rule; however, there can be an objection to the inclusion of the witness’ written testimony in the hearing record if the witness has not complied with the rule.
Questioning Witnesses (Clause 2(j)(2) of Rule XI) - As a general rule, each committee member is technically entitled to five minutes of questioning for each witnesses. However, in practice this five minutes is usually applied per each panel of witnesses. Furthermore, the Chair and ranking minority member may designate specific members or staff for extended questioning of up to 30 minutes per side.
The Minority Witness Rule (Clause 2(j)(1) of Rule XI) - The Minority is entitled to one additional day of related hearings at which to call their own witnesses if a majority of the Minority Members make their demand before the committee’s hearing is gaveled closed.
Hearing Adjournment (Clause 1(a)(1)(b) of Rule XI) - It is not within the power of the Chair to unilaterally recess or adjourn a committee hearing or meeting. If an objection is heard, a non-debatable motion to adjourn must be entertained and passed in order to do so.
Subpoenas (Clause 2(m)(1) of Rule XI) - Subpoenas may be authorized by a simple majority vote with a majority of the committee members present. Committees may also delegate the power to authorize subpoenas to the full committee chairman only. Subpoenas may be signed by the Chair or by any Member designated by the committee. Subpoenaed witnesses have the right to be accompanied by counsel.
The Price of A Mistake (Clause 2(g)(5)(B) of Rule XI) - If a point of order is made in a timely manner in a hearing and the Chair improperly overrules or fails to properly consider the point of order, any committee Member may make a point of order against the bill’s consideration when the measure reaches the floor. If the Chairman makes a mistake, the bill may be objected to on the floor and sent back to committee to correct the error. It is in a committee’s best interest to ensure that the committee properly follows its own rules and the rules of the House.