11.19.10

As Asked Of Senator Patrick Leahy On VPR's Vermont Edition: "What is the meaning of 'lame duck'?"

While appearing on Vermont Public Radio's Vermont Edition with Bob Kinzel on Friday, November 19, Senator Leahy was asked for the history and meaning of the term 'lame duck' as it is used in reference to all sessions of the U.S. Congress taking place after an election but prior to the commencement of a new term.

According to the Library of Congress, the historical significance and meaning of the term 'lame duck' is as follows:

The expression "lame duck" was originally applied in 18th century Britain to bankrupt businessmen, who were considered as "lame" in the sense that the impairment of their powers rendered them vulnerable, like a game bird injured by shot. By the 1830s, the usage had been extended to officeholders whose service already had a known termination date. In current American usage, for instance, a President is considered a "lame duck" not only after his successor has been elected, but also whenever he cannot be, or is known not to be, a candidate for reelection.

Members of Congress in similar circumstances are also considered "lame ducks." The expression may accordingly be applied to Members who are known not to be seeking re-election as well as to those who have been defeated. In particular, however, after an election of Congress, all the Members who did not gain reelection can be described as lame ducks until the term of the new Congress starts. When the previously sitting Congress, which includes these Members, meets in a post-election session, this session is called a lame duck session as well.

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