United States Senate
Comprised of 100 elected officials, the United States Senate represents one half of the U.S. Congress. Senators have argued over the generations that the Senate is also the “better half” of the nation’s legislative body. Sometimes referred to as the “upper house,” the Senate has maintained a tradition of behaving more stately than the House of Representatives (the so-called “lower house”) and prided itself in maintaining its decorum while carrying out its duties. Like the House, the Senate spends much of its time considering legislation and passing new laws. It also is responsible for other important duties not shared by the House, such as approving treaties with foreign governments, passing judgment on officials impeached by the House, and confirming appointments by the President to the U.S. Supreme Court, other federal judgeships and a huge array of political positions in federal agencies. This latter responsibility has been the subject of considerable debate and even antagonism during the administration of George W. Bush, whose conservative nominees to the federal bench were held up by Senate Democrats. Threats of “nuclear options” by Senate Republicans wreaked havoc on the normally staid affairs of the upper house. The Senate’s pride for proper behavior also took a hit when one of its longest serving members was indicted, and then convicted, on federal charges of concealing gifts from a lobbyist, marking the first time in almost three decades that a senator was convicted of breaking the law.