In addition to full legislative authority, the U.S. Constitution provides the Senate with two unique responsibilities: first, the power to confirm certain presidential nominees to the federal judiciary and certain executive branch positions; and second, the power to approve treaties. In the legislative process, treaties are treated very much like bills: they are referred to the Foreign Relations Committee, where they may be considered and reported. The Senate can consider a treaty on the floor under similar procedures used for legislation. However, the Constitution requires that two-thirds of voting Senators agree for a treaty to be ratified.

Most presidential nominations are referred to the relevant Senate committee of jurisdiction. Prior to potential committee action to report a nomination, a committee may hold a hearing at which a nominee answers questions from the committee’s members. If a nominee is considered on the Senate floor, his or her confirmation requires only a simple majority vote, but nominations are debatable. Therefore, supporters of a nominee may have to use the cloture process to reach a vote on the nominee. For nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court, invoking cloture requires the support of three-fifths of the Senate; for other nominees, the cloture vote is subject to a simple majority threshold. Regardless of the relevant vote threshold, using cloture to reach a vote on a pending nomination may take significant floor time.