Parliamentarian of the United States Senate

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Parliamentarian of the United States Senate
Seal of the United States Senate.svg
Seal of the United States Senate
Elizabeth MacDonough

since 2012
United States Senate
Member ofSenate Dais
AppointerSenate Majority Leader
Term lengthServes at the pleasure of the Majority Leader
Constituting instrumentStanding Rules of the United States Senate
First holderCharles Watkins

The Parliamentarian of the United States Senate is the official advisor to the United States Senate on the interpretation of Standing Rules of the United States Senate and parliamentary procedure. Incumbent parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough has held the office since 2012, appointed by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.[2]

As the Presiding Officer of the Senate may not be, and usually is not, aware of the parliamentary situation currently facing the Senate, a parliamentary staff sits second from the left on the Senate dais to advise the Presiding Officer on how to respond to inquiries and motions from Senators (including "the Sergeant at Arms will restore order in the gallery"). The role of the parliamentary staff is advisory, and the Presiding Officer may overrule the advice of the parliamentarian. In practice, this is rare; the most recent example of a Vice President (as President of the Senate) overruling the parliamentarian was Nelson Rockefeller in 1975.[3] That ruling was extremely controversial,[4] to such an extent that the leaders of both parties immediately met and agreed that they did not want this precedent to stand, so the next week the Senate altered the rule under consideration via standard procedure.[5]


An important role of the parliamentarian is to decide what can and cannot be done under the Senate's Reconciliation process under the provisions of the Byrd Rule.[2] These rulings are important because they allow certain bills to be approved by a simple majority, instead of the sixty votes needed to end debate and block a filibuster.

The office also refers bills to the appropriate committees on behalf of the Senate's Presiding Officer, and referees efforts by the ruling party to change the Senate rules by rulings from the chair. The parliamentarian is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the Senate Majority Leader. Traditionally, the parliamentarian is chosen from senior staff in the parliamentarian office, which helps ensure consistency in the application of the Senate's complex rules. The current and the previous two parliamentarians have all served under both Republican and Democratic Senate rule.

The Parliamentarian's salary is $172,500 per year, as of 2018.[6]

List of Parliamentarians[edit]

The following have served as Senate Parliamentarian:[7]

No. Years Parliamentarian
1 1935–1964[8] Charles L. Watkins[9]
2 1964–1974 Floyd M. Riddick
3 1974–1981 Murray Zweben[10]
4a 1981–1987 Robert Dove
5a 1987–1995 Alan Frumin
4b 1995–2001 Robert Dove
5b 2001–2012 Alan Frumin
6 2012–present Elizabeth MacDonough[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brudnick, Ida A. (April 11, 2018). "Congressional Salaries and Allowances: In Brief" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved February 26, 2021.
  2. ^ a b Bolton, Alexander (January 31, 2012). "After nearly 20 years, Senate parliamentarian Alan Frumin to retire". The Hill. Retrieved March 23, 2017.
  3. ^ Young, Jeffrey (February 16, 2010). "Healthcare reform and reconciliation a bad mix, ex-parliamentarian says". The Hill. Retrieved March 23, 2017.
  4. ^ Walter J. Oleszek (February 23, 2016). Amending Senate Rules at the Start of a New Congress, 1953-1975: An Analysis with an Afterword to 2015 (Report). Congressional Research Service. p. 56. Retrieved July 17, 2021. His decisions, especially the furor aroused by Rockefeller’s recognition practices, triggered such vehement criticism that it created a hostile mood in the chamber.
  5. ^ "Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller, 41st Vice President (1974-1977)". United States Senate. Retrieved July 17, 2021.
  6. ^ Brudnick, Ida A. (April 11, 2018). "Congressional Salaries and Allowances: In Brief" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved February 26, 2021.
  7. ^ Gold, Martin (2008). Senate procedure and practice. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-7425-6305-6.
  8. ^ Heitshusen, Valerie. "Parliamentarian_of_the_United_States_Senate" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved May 30, 2017.
  9. ^ "First Official Parliamentarian". United States Senate.
  10. ^ "Murray Zweben". Washington Post. September 24, 2000.
  11. ^ Rogers, David (February 6, 2012). "Elizabeth MacDonough is Senate's first female parliamentarian". Politico. Retrieved April 12, 2014.