What Does It Mean to “Move the Previous Question”?

Legislative Process By Kevin R. Kosar February 13, 2024

Source: C-SPAN.

According to House Practice: A Guide to the Rules, Precedents and Procedures of the House, “The motion for the previous question is used during the consideration of a matter to terminate debate, foreclose the offering of amendments, and to bring the House to an immediate vote on the main question.”

The video above shows a moment early in the 114 Congress when a majority Republican legislator sought to “move the previous question” on the adoption of rules for the House of Representatives. He spoke right after a minority (Democrat) legislator (from the minority) sought to defeat the previous question so that she could amend the proposed rules package.

A report by Congressional Research Service (also embedded below) notes that the “previous question” comes up frequently in the House of Representatives:

“Most major bills, however, are considered through a multi-stage process involving the Committee on Rules. Special rules are House resolutions reported by the Committee on Rules that set the terms for debating and amending measures. Through special rules, the House majority can customize floor procedures for considering each bill. The House first approves a special rule and then considers the bill under the terms of that rule. After an hour of debate on a special rule, a Member typically moves the previous question, a motion that proposes to end consideration of a matter. The previous question is almost invariably agreed to, and the House then votes on approving the special rule.”

As indciated above, usually the majority votes for the motion on the previous question and the minority against it.

Where matters could get interesting is if dissidents within the majority vote against the previous question. CRS explains further:

“The previous question motion effectively asks whether the House is ready to vote immediately on the main question. (In this case: Is the House ready to vote on adoption of the special rule?) Majority party Members usually vote for the previous question, and the question is therefore almost always decided in the affirmative. Minority Members who urge a ‘no’ vote on the previous question are doing so because, if the previous question were defeated, the Speaker would recognize the leader of the opposition for one hour. During that (second) hour, the opponent could propose changes to the special rule, perhaps to allow more minority party amendments to be offered to the bill or to allow the House to consider a different bill.”

This Twitter/X thread by a legislative procedure expert describes the “previous question” and explains it with additional nuance and relates it to a measure before Congress.


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