Resolutions express the sentiments of Congress about an issue, but do not carry the force of law. They are helpful when praise or condemnation is important, but policy change is not desired or possible. They are often used to raise the visibility of an issue, educate members or the public, express solidarity with a persecuted group, recognize heroic action, or differentiate the congressional view from official U.S. policy. Resolutions are also a good way of finding out how much support there is, and where to find it, on an issue where positions have not been clearly staked out in the past. Simply introducing a resolution, even if it has no chance of passage, can often achieve one or more of the purposes outlined above.
Simple resolutions (H.Res. or S.Res.) address matters entirely within the prerogative of one chamber or the other. They do not require the approval of the other chamber or signature by the President.
Concurrent resolutions (H.Con.Res. or S.Con.Res.) require the approval of both chambers but not the signature of the President.
- There is rarely a good reason to do a concurrent resolution, which cannot be approved and signed until it has passed both chambers. It is usually smarter to introduce a separate resolution in each chamber.
- Resolutions are most effective when the foreign government involved is concerned about its public image and its relationship with the United States.
- Resolutions should be designed and promoted to send a message and garner international attention. Since they have no binding impact, they are only worth the effort if they influence the debate.
- Inspiring Allies Overseas. In May 2014, the House passed Res. 418, calling on the Government of Burma to end all forms of persecution and discrimination of the Rohingya people and to ensure respect for internationally recognized human rights for all ethnic and religious minority groups within Burma. (A companion, but non-identical measure, S. Res. 586, was introduced in the Senate in November 2014 and reported by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December 2014, but never approved by the full Senate.) The House measure was heavily publicized in the region and shared with parliamentarians and human rights groups, becoming catalyst for further action. A delegation of parliamentarians from ASEAN countries visited Myanmar in April 2015, and issued a report and call to action on the eve of the 26th ASEAN Summit.
- Pressuring the U.S. Government to Take a Stand. In February 2016, House Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans were frustrated with the State Department’s reluctance to say that ISIS was committing genocide against the Christians in Iraq and Syria. The Committee demanded a briefing from senior officials at the State Department, at which members threatened to take up legislation if the administration failed to act. On March 2, the Committee marked up a resolution sponsored by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (Con.Res. 75, 114th) saying the atrocities perpetuated by ISIS constituted genocide. The resolution was adopted by the full House on March 14 by a vote of 393-0, but it was not taken up in the Senate. On March 17, 2016 – the statutory deadline for issuing an atrocities prevention report – Secretary of State John Kerry determined that ISIS' action against the Yazidis and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria constituted genocide.
- Demonstrating That the World Has Not Forgotten. Annually since 1975, there have been resolutions to commemorate the Armenian Genocide. Such resolutions passed the House in 1975 and 1984, failed on suspension in 1985 (along with an amendment to strike the word “Turkish” from the text), and failed an up-or-down House vote in 1987. Although the resolutions have no legal weight, they always get the attention of the Turkish Government and – if the resolutions move -- set off a lobbying frenzy.
- Introduction of Resolution Leads to Talks. On September 23, 2013, the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court issued a ruling to strip citizenship from Dominican-born children of Haitian immigrants. On December 12, Rep. Gregory Meeks introduced Res.443 (113th), expressing the Sense of Congress that the decision places hundreds of thousands of Dominican-born persons at risk of statelessness. Less than a week later, the Dominican leader announced talks with Haiti over the issue. However, despite the Dominican government’s sensitivity to this criticism, the problem has continued to worsen, and tens of thousands are still stateless.