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He said what?! How to Research Congressional Members’ Statements

Did you hear what Senator John McCain said on Monday about bombing Syria?  If you were anywhere near a TV, newspaper or the internet, you might have noticed that McCain called for a U.S.-led airstrike against Syria.

If you wanted to know more about what McCain said, to find his entire statement, or how to cite it in an official source, would you know how to begin this research?

When researching statements made by members of Congress, look at the context of the statement for clues.  Where was the member speaking . . . on the floor of the U.S. House or Senate, in a committee meeting or hearing, at a press conference, at a public event?  Who was the audience?  What was the date?  These clues will lead you to the correct source.

Floor Statements

If you saw video footage of Senator McCain speaking you might recognize the location (blue carpet, dark wooden desks, leather upholstered chairs) as the chamber of the United States Senate.  A news article might give you this information; for example, this article and this article specifically mention that McCain was speaking from the Senate floor.

The first place you could look for information is the member’s website.  Each member of Congress has his or her own website on the House or Senate sites where, amongst other information, you will find the members’ videos and press releases, floor statements, speeches, committee assignments, committee statements, sponsored legislation, and issues.  On Senator McCain’s website, you can easily find links to his floor statement on Syria, a related press release and video.

Where would you look to find an official document?

For floor statements, go to the Congressional Record.  The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress and contains transcripts of floor debates including remarks by members of Congress, their votes, proposed amendments, statements, speeches, conference committee reports, messages from the President, and occasionally the text of bills.  The Congressional Record is published daily, and is available in print and online (FDsys, ProQuest Congressional, HeinOnline, Lexis, Westlaw).  The Congressional Record has its own index (organized alphabetically by subject, name, title of legislation), which has a separate part for Senate and House “History of Bills and Resolutions.”

To find McCain’s statement published in the Congressional Record, you could use FDsys, (Federal Digital System), the repository for authentic U.S. government information.  Use the advanced search and enter the following criteria:

  • Date is (March 5, 2012)
  • Collection (Congressional Record)
  • Congress Member Speaking (McCain)
  • Full-Text (Syria)

This search of FDsys should yield one result: 158 Cong. Rec. S1377 – S1380.

Congressional Hearings

Members of Congress often speak before Congressional Committees.  For example, you might have read that Senator McCain, two days after his floor statement on Syria, admonished Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for failing to show leadership by “focusing on diplomatic and political approaches rather than a military intervention” and told Panetta that the United States has failed to show unilateral leadership in the crisis in Syria.  Where would you look to find this exchange?  Again, look for the clues, i.e., location, audience, date.

This article tells you that Secretary Panetta was appearing before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to discuss the situation in Syria.  McCain is the Ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.  The committee’s website contains information on hearings back to the 106th Congress (1999).  The hearing “to receive testimony on the situation in Syria” occurred March 7, 2012.   There is an archived webcast of the hearing, but no transcript of the proceedings (other than the prepared testimony) on the committee’s website.

To find a transcript of the hearing’s proceedings (including statements by Senator McCain) you could wait for the official hearing to be published by the Government Printing Office (in print or on FDsys), which could take several years, or hope that a commercial database like ProQuest Congressional (PQC) or CQ.com publishes the transcripts sooner.

ProQuest Congressional has two databases of Congressional hearings:

  • PDFs of official hearings, 1824-2003
  • Selected transcripts, 1988-present

PQC’s database of selected hearings includes transcripts of the proceedings, testimony, Q&A, and submitted statements, and is updated daily.  Use the Advanced Search tab in PQC to search Congressional publications and enter the following criteria:

  • McCain and Syria (in all fields including full text)
  • Select Hearings only
  • Date is March 7, 2012

This search of PQC yields the transcript of proceedings of the hearing: Senate Armed Services Committee, “The Situation in Syria,” Chaired by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). Witnesses: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  106 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., 9:00 a.m. EST., Wednesday, March 7, 2012.

Historical Research

FDsys

  • Congressional Record (daily edition 1994-present)
  • Congressional Hearings (1997-present)

ProQuest Congressional

  • Congressional Record (permanent edition 1873-1997; daily edition 1985-present)
  • Congressional Hearings, searchable PDFs (1824-2003)
  • Selected hearing transcripts (1988-present)

HeinOnline

  • Congressional Record (permanent edition, Vols. 1-154, 1873-2008; daily edition 1980-2012)

If you need help finding Congressional publications, don’t hesitate to ask for assistance at the reference desk!



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