What do terms like "I yield my time, Mr. Speaker" mean?

  • What do terms like "I yield back" and "I reclaim my time" and "I yield to..." mean? I sorta get it, but am still quite clueless as to the details, let alone any name it may have.

    This question is tagged with [tag:senate-rules], but is it explicitly about the United States Senate?

    @indigochild It is also tagged with "united-states", so presumably so. Though most legislative systems based off of the British Parliament will be extremely similar in how debates function. But technically speaking the US Senate does not have a Speaker as presiding officer (that's the VP), so I imagine the OP is really asking about the House of Representatives.

    @zibadawatimmy - Asking for clarification so that we can either clean up the tags or the question. If the tags are correct, we should edit the question. If the question is correct, we should edit the tags. It just isn't clear which to do yet.

    The question seems to be mixing up the House and Senate a little bit. I'm far from a Senate procedure expert, but as I understand it, there's no Speaker in the Senate, there's a presiding officer, and you address him or her as "Mr. President" or "Madam President," with all remarks directed to the presiding officer. The House has a Speaker (of the House), and you call him or her "Mr. Speaker" or "Madam Speaker." You wouldn't address the Speaker in the Senate, because that's the wrong chamber.

  • These are technical requirements imposed by the rules of debate. The current rules used by the US Congress are (based on) Robert's rules.

    Rules of debate are meant to help maintain order and decorum amongst people who may have wildly different opinions on matters, and to facilitate a timely and smooth legislative process.

    The phrases in particular you mention are relevant to various limits on how many times, when, and for how long a person may speak, and what they are allowed to do with the time they are allotted. If they are permitted to let someone else speak during their time, they may "yield [their time] to" that other entity; if they were already speaking on someone else's time, they may "yield [the remaining time] back to [the original person]". The original speaker would then reclaim their time. In each case "yield" is essentially a synonym for "give to" or "give back".

    I'll also add that in your title question, the use of "Mr. Speaker" is another one of the formalities of the rules: anyone currently speaking is required to address everything to the Speaker (who controls the debate and chooses the rules). This is meant to prevent personal attacks, which would be easy to fall into on contentious issues.

    A lot of this is nicely detailed in the following Congressional Research Report from 2016, concerning how time is managed in the House.

    As a side note, this is something not specific to the United States. I know at least the Dutch and British parliament have very similar rules and I suspect many others do as well.

    I was always under the impression that Robert's Rules of Order were based on the rules of the US House of Representatives, (with modifications to make them more general) rather than the other way around as you seem to say in your first paragraph. Do you have a citation to support that second sentence?

    @MontyHarder Wikipedia says you're right - that RONR is based on the US House rules, rather than the US Congress using RONR - and sources it to p. xliii of RONR (11th ed.) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert%27s_Rules_of_Order#cite_ref-3), but I wouldn't be surprised if both Congress and the Robert's Rules Association had taken ideas and inspiration from each other, over the years.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM