The Legislative Branch of the Government

The legislative branch of the government is the House of Representatives and the Senate. These two groups of elected officials make up Congress. The leader of the legislative branch is the Speaker of the House, who is third in line to be president of the United States, behind the president and the vice-president.

The legislative branch has many important responsibilities, which include the right to conduct investigations, the sole authority to declare war, and the right to create or change laws. If there was ever a tie in the electoral college in a presidential election, the legislative branch of government breaks the tie and selects the president. The Senate alone has the right to approve a person for selection to the president's Cabinet, as well as the right to approve treaties. However, the House must also ratify any treaty that involves trade with a foreign country.

There are 435 members of the legislative branch. One hundred of those members are senators. Each state has two senators that are directly elected by voters. Before the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913, state legislatures, not voters, elected senators. A senator's term is six years. There are no term limits, which means that a senator can run for re-election as many times as he or she wants to do so. Every two years, each state elects people to represent them in the House of Representatives. States with larger populations get more representation. Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Samoa, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands also have representation in Congress but do not have the right to vote.

To create a new law that is then sent on to the president to sign, the House and the Senate must both pass the bill. The president has the right to veto, or decline a bill, but Congress can override the veto. That requires both the House and the Senate passing the bill by a two-thirds margin and not a simple majority. However, it is rare that the legislative branch will override a veto because it is so difficult to get that many members of Congress to vote against a presidential veto. More often than not, Congress will work to change a bill so that the president will agree to sign it. There has also never been a case of Congress and the president not agreeing on declarations of war against other countries. In fact, Congress has rarely declared war. It has only happened five times and the last time was in December 1941, when Congress agreed with President Franklin Roosevelt's request to declare war on Japan.


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