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In U.S. politics, the minority leader is the floor leader of the second largest caucus in a legislative body. Given the two-party nature of the U.S. system, the minority leader is almost inevitably either a Republican or a Democrat, with the counterpart being a member of the opposite party. The position is essentially that of the Leader of the Opposition. In bicameral legislatures, the counterpart to the minority leader in the lower house is often the Speaker and the majority leader is hence only the second-most senior member of the majority caucus, whereas in the upper house the titular Speaker is often a separately-elected officer such as a lieutenant governor and the majority leader may in fact be the single most powerful member of the majority caucus.
The minority leader is often assisted in his/her role by one or more whips, whose job is to enforce party discipline on votes deemed to be crucial by the party leadership and to ensure that members do not vote against the position of the party leaders. Some votes are deemed to be so crucial as to lead to punitive measures (such as demotion from choice committee assignments) for members who violate the party line; decisions such as these are often made by the minority leader in conjunction with other senior party leaders.
In a state where the executive branch and both houses of the state legislature are controlled by the other party, the minority leader of one of the houses (most often the upper one) may be seen as the seniormost member of the party in that state with regard to state government (although inferior in rank to a United States Senator or United States Representative, if there be such in that party from that state).
At times, particularly with regard to crucial legislation, the minority leader and other senior members of his/her party may be consulted with an eye to enacting such legislation on a bipartisan basis, the minority leader may also work closely with leaders in the majority party to ensure that provisions important to the interests of his party be included in legislation, which often occurs if it can be done without seeming to appear particularly harmful to the interests of the majority party.
The level of partisanship in state legislative bodies varies greatly from one state to another, so the foregoing must be regarded as a guideline of rather typical circumstances rather than a reflection of the situation in every state.
- Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives
- Minority Leader of the United States Senate
- Leader of the Opposition
- "U.S. Senate: Reference Home > Glossary > floor leaders". United States Senate. Retrieved 2008-03-20.