Reclaiming my time is not relevant in Robert’s Rules of Order

The fascinating exchange on July 27, 2017 between Representative Maxine Waters (California) and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin has reverberated far beyond Washington, DC. Representative Waters sought a direct answer to a specific question. When the Secretary failed to answer, she interrupted him numerous times, referring to the House Rules of Order, with the phrase reclaiming my time. This has now become an “Internet Meme” on the theme of empowerment – you may enjoy Christina Emba’s Op-Ed linked to this video. Singer Mykal Kilgore has even created a gospel song with the refrain reclaiming my time, which you can hear here.

The House rules, however, are different in many respects from Robert’s Rules of Order. Under Robert’s Rules of Order, “rights in regard to debate are not transferable.” A member cannot yield any unused portion of his time to another member. The exception would be if your organization has passed a “special rule of order” allowing this (which we do NOT recommend).

Reclaiming my time vs. Robert’s basic guidance

Here are some basic things to know about Robert’s Rules and time:

LIMITS Members may speak twice per day on each motion being considered, each speech for a maximum of 10 minutes

SMALL BOARDS These limits do not apply in small boards (up to about 12 people). Read more about the small board rules here.

OTHER OPTIONS Robert’s Rules offer a foundation for discussion. If the rules don’t suit your group, here are some steps you can take:

  • To change your rules in general, you can pass “special rules of order.” Read how to do this here.
  • To change the rules in a specific situation, you can use the motion “to limit or extend the limits of debate.”
  •  It is also fine to use “unanimous consent.” If a chair senses that some change or limit is appropriate, he can say, “If there’s no objection, we will allow the member to finish her comments” or “Without objection, we will limit discussion on this topic to 15 minutes total.” If the members remain silent, they have agreed to the proposal. If they disagree, they can say “objection” and then the chair should take a vote.

Have you had issues with reclaiming my time or time limits in discussion? Let us know – we’d love to hear about them!




  1. Jim Lohr on August 2, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    Good to compare our parliamentary heritage with what is happening in the real world! Thank you!
    Have you tackled comparing parliamentary procedure with Sharia Law? Someone of us should!

    • Ann Macfarlane on August 2, 2017 at 2:27 pm

      I’m afraid that’s above my pay grade…Thanks for your comment!

  2. dave78981 on August 19, 2017 at 9:20 am


    I’m on the Executive Board of a membership based organization. Our by-laws list the responsibilities of a number of officer positions, however by custom through the years, those responsibilities have shifted. We are compelled by our constitution to run our meetings by RROO but in practice, that isn’t how it’s worked. One of the responsibilities of the Secy-Treas is to present an annual budget to the Board for discussion and approval. Our current president has assumed that responsibility and delegated it to our office manager who is not a board member or even a member of our organization. Also, the president is the chair of the e-board meetings in practice, although in our by-laws, it’s the Ex VP.

    What’s the best way to deal with this?

    • Ann Macfarlane on August 20, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      Are there other board members who are concerned? Does your organization have an attorney? I suggest gathering some allies first. Then, since the bylaws are controlling, it would make sense to have a private discussion with the president and the attorney explaining the ways in which current practice is out of line. The options are (1) to bring current practice in line with the bylaws, or (2) to amend the bylaws so they match current practice. If the president is not responsive, then you can bring it up a board meeting, but it’s usually better to raise the issue in a way that’s not publicly embarrassing first. Good luck!