Parliamentary Outreach Program
“The freedom of speech in debate in the House of Representatives should never be denied or abridged, but freedom of speech in debate does not mean license to indulge in personal abuses or ridicule. The right of Members of the two Houses of Congress to criticize the official acts of the President and other executive officers is beyond question, but this right is subject to proper rules requiring decorum in debate.”
     -Cannon’s Precedents, Volume 8, Section 2497


Words Taken Down (Clause 4 of Rule XVII)

  • A Member should avoid impugning the motives of another Member, the Senate or the President, using offensive language, or uttering words that are otherwise deemed unparliamentary. These actions are strictly against House Rules and are subject to a demand that the words be taken down. A demand that the Member’s words be taken down results in the Clerk reporting the words and the chair ruling on the propriety of the words. (If the demand is made in the Committee of the Whole, the Committee rises and reports them to the House where the Chair rules on their propriety).

  • The offending Member may obtain unanimous consent to withdraw the inappropriate words or the demand may be withdrawn. Following such a withdrawal, the Member proceeds in order. However, if the Member’s words are ruled out of order, the words may be stricken from the Congressional Record by motion or unanimous consent, and the Member will not be allowed to speak again on that day except by motion or unanimous consent.

Relevancy of Debate (Clause 1 of Rule XVII)

  • A Member is required to confine himself or herself to the question under debate and may not stray from the subject under discussion. If so, a Member may be subject to a point of order that his or her remarks are not relevant to the debate.

Speaking Out of Order (Clause 2 of Rule XIV)

  • If a Member has something to say which is not relevant to the debate and cannot wait until later, they may ask unanimous consent to “speak out of order” for a period of time (usually a minute or two). If granted, the Member may then speak on the unrelated subject for the allotted time.

Addressing the Chair (Clause 1 of Rule XVII)

  • A Member must stand while speaking . A Member must address the Chair in their remarks (Mister or Madam Speaker; Mister or Madam Chairman), and refrain from addressing other Members, the President, the gallery, or the television viewing audience.

Walking in the Well (Clause 5 of rule XVII)

  • Members should avoid walking between the Chair and any Member addressing the House and Members should not walk through the Well of the House when Members are speaking.

Dress Code and Electronic Devices (Clause 5 of Rule XVII)

  • Members should dress appropriately, which has traditionally been considered to include a coat and tie for male Members and appropriate attire for female Members; Members should not wear overcoats or hats on the floor while the House is in session. No eating, drinking, or smoking is permitted. The use of personal electronic equipment, including cellular phones and laptop computers, is banned on the floor of the House.

Forms of Address (Clause 1 of Rule XVII)

  • Members of the House are never addressed by name on the House Floor. They are “ the Gentleman from California,” or “the Gentleman from California, Mr. Jones” or “the Gentlewoman from Florida,” or “ the Gentlewoman from Florida, Mrs. Smith.”

NOTE: All of the same cautions and prohibitions mentioned above with respect to conduct during debate in the Committee of the Whole also apply to conduct in the House.