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A Joint Session of Congress is an assemblage of the United States House of Representatives and United States Senate. As a bicameral legislature, the US Congress is separated into two bodies, sometimes defined as the upper and lower houses. The politics and procedures in both houses are different, along with the length of terms, making the dynamics of the legislative activities divergent. This results in the need for the House and Senate to occasionally meet together for important events known as special sessions. A Joint Session of Congress is overseen by the leaders of both government bodies: the Speaker of the House and the Vice President, acting as President of the Senate.
There are two types of assemblies referred to as a Joint Session of Congress: a joint convention or a joint meeting. A joint convention takes place when both houses assemble to perform some sort of standard procedure, constitutional or otherwise, mandated by legislative need and the tradition of oversight. This requires the passage of a concurrent resolution by both houses, a legislative act that does not require signature by the President and merely binds Congress to action. A joint meeting is held on occasions in which the House and Senate need to consult with each other or hear from domestic diplomats or foreign officials. In order to recess the individual houses and reconvene as a full Congress, unanimous consent must be obtained in which no member objects to the action.
Constitutionally, the House and Senate are required to meet in a Joint Session of Congress every four years following a presidential general election. A Joint Session of Congress is needed to approve the electoral college results from each state, the process by which the President is actually elected. According to the US Constitution, both the House and Senate must approve of the results and a member from each body is required to challenge the election process. In this situation, the Vice President oversees the proceedings.
Each year, one of the most prominent examples of a Joint Session of Congress takes place during the first two months of the session. Known as the State of the Union Address, the President gives a speech to both houses, along with his Cabinet, the US Supreme Court, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other dignitaries and guests. This speech outlines the legislative agenda of the executive branch and assesses the overall state of the nation. Many times, the President will call for a joint convention at other times during the year as well.
Another important Joint Session of Congress takes place after a president is elected. Taking place on 20 January following the general election and electoral college session, the President-elect is sworn into office. This is the only time that a formal special session occurs. While the legislative branch is required to take no official action at these events, the presence of both houses is more of a sign of respect for the office than an active governmental function.