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A congressional caucus is a group of members of the United States Congress that meets to pursue common legislative objectives. Formally, caucuses are formed as congressional member organizations (CMOs) through the United States House of Representatives and governed under the rules of that chamber. In addition to the term caucus, they are sometimes called coalitions, study groups, task forces, or working groups. Many other countries use the term "parliamentary group"; for example, the UK Parliament has an all-party parliamentary group.
The largest caucuses are the party conferences, which are the partisan caucuses comprising all members of one house from one party (either the Democrats or the Republicans). These are the House Democratic Caucus, House Republican Conference, Senate Democratic Caucus, and Senate Republican Conference.
The caucuses meet regularly in closed sessions to set legislative agendas, select committee members and chairs, and hold elections to choose various floor leaders. They also oversee the four Hill committees, political party committees that work to elect members of their own party to Congress.
Other caucuses are organized political factions with a common ideological orientation:
- On the Democratic side, there is the Blue Dog Coalition (conservative Democrats), the New Democrat Coalition (moderate Democrats) and the Congressional Progressive Caucus (liberal and progressive Democrats).
- On the Republican side, there is the Republican Study Committee (conservative Republicans), Republican Main Street Partnership (moderate Republicans), and the Liberty Caucus (Libertarian Republicans).
Racial and ethnic caucuses
Among the most visible caucuses are those composed of members sharing the same race or ethnic group. All race-based caucuses are non-white, despite the fact that whites are a majority of the electorate.
The Congressional Black Caucus for African-Americans has included members of both chambers. As of 2014, there were only two black senators, only one of whom joined as a member (elected in 2013, Senator Cory Booker (D–N.J.) is a member whereas Senator Tim Scott (R–S.C.), appointed in 2013 to fill the senate seat of Jim DeMint, is not). There are two Hispanic caucuses: The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, for Hispanic Democrats, and the Congressional Hispanic Conference, for Hispanic Republicans. Congressional Republicans formerly belonged to the Hispanic Caucus but later split off to form the Hispanic Conference. The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus represents members who are Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, but they are open to other members as well.
California representatives Judy Chu (D–Monterey Park) and David Valadao (R–Hanford) co-launched the bipartisan American Sikh Congressional Caucus to represent the interests of the American Sikh community. She cited violent crimes against Sikhs in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as being a motivation for the initiation of the caucus. The caucus seeks to address issues such as military discrimination, violence and bullying of Sikhs and raise general awareness of Sikh and their contributions to the United States. Currently there are 42 members in the Caucus. In 2014, representative Patrick Meehan (R–Penn.) and John R. Garamendi (D–Calif.) also became Co-Chairs.
Interest group caucuses
The most common caucuses consist of members united as an interest group. These are often bipartisan (comprising both Democrats and Republicans) and bicameral (comprising both Representatives and Senators). For example, the Congressional Bike Caucus works to promote cycling.
The House Committee on House Administration prescribes certain rules for Congressional Member Organizations (CMOs). Each Congress, CMOs must electronically register with the Committee on House Administration, providing the name of the caucus, a statement of purpose, the CMO officers, and the employee designated to work on issues related to the CMO.
The Committee on House Administration rules include:
- Members of both the House and Senate may participate in CMO, but at least one of the Officers of the CMO must be a Member of the House. The participation of Senators in a CMO does not impact the scope of authorized CMO activities in any regard.
- CMOs have no separate corporate or legal identity. A CMO is not an employing authority. The Members' Representational Allowance (MRA) may not directly support a CMO as an independent entity. A CMO may not be assigned separate office space.
- Neither CMOs nor individual Members may accept goods, funds, or services from private organizations or individuals to support the CMO. Members may use personal funds to support the CMO.
- A Member of a CMO, in support of the objectives of that CMO, may utilize employees (including shared employees) and official resources under the control of the Member to assist the CMO in carrying out its legislative objectives, but no employees may be appointed in the name of a CMO.
- CMOs may not use the Frank, nor may a Member lend his or her Frank to a CMO.
- A Member may use official resources for communications related to the purpose of a CMO. Any such communications must comply with the Franking regulations.
- Members may devote a section of their official website to CMO issues, but CMOs may not have independent web pages.
- A Member may use inside mail to communicate information related to a CMO.
- Members may prepare material related to CMO issues for dissemination.
- Official funds may not be used to print or pay for stationery for the CMO.
- Members may refer to their membership in a CMO on their official stationery.
- Congressional Member Organizations: Their Purpose and Activities, History, and Formation Congressional Research Service
- "Congressman Garamendi Selected as Co-Chair of Bipartisan American Sikh Congressional Caucus". U.S. Representative John Garamendi. May 22, 2014.