Party leaders of the United States House of Representatives
Party leaders and whips of the United States House of Representatives, also known as floor leaders, are elected by their respective parties in a closed-door caucus by secret ballot. With the Democrats holding a majority of seats and the Republicans holding a minority, the current leaders are Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise.
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Unlike the Senate Majority Leader, the House Majority Leader is the second highest-ranking member of his or her party's House caucus, behind the Speaker of the House. The Majority Leader's actual duties and prominence vary depending on the Speaker's power and style. Typically, the Speaker does not participate in debate and rarely votes on the floor. In some cases, Majority Leaders have been more influential than the Speaker; notably, Tom DeLay was more prominent than Speaker Dennis Hastert. In addition, Speaker Newt Gingrich delegated to Dick Armey an unprecedented level of authority over scheduling legislation on the House floor.
The current Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, serves as floor leader of the opposition party. Unlike the Majority Leader, the Minority Leader is on the ballot for Speaker of the House during the convening of the Congress. If the Minority Leader's party takes control of the House, and the party officers are all reelected to their seats, the Minority Leader is usually the party's top choice for Speaker for the next Congress, while the Minority Whip is typically in line to become Majority Leader. The Minority Leader usually meets with the Majority Leader and the Speaker to discuss agreements on controversial issues.
The Speaker, Majority Leader, Minority Leader, Majority Whip and Minority Whip all receive special office suites in the United States Capitol.
The floor leaders and whips of each party are elected by their respective parties in a closed-door caucus by secret ballot. The Speaker-presumptive is assumed to be the incoming Speaker, but he or she has not been formally selected to be nominated for Speaker by the majority party's caucus. After this period, the Speaker-designate is also chosen in a closed-door session by the largest caucus although they are formally installed in their position by a public vote when Congress reconvenes.
Like the Speaker of the House, the Minority Leaders are typically experienced lawmakers when they win election to this position. When Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, became Minority Leader in the 108th Congress, she had served in the House nearly 20 years and had served as minority whip in the 107th Congress. When her predecessor, Dick Gephardt, D-MO, became minority leader in the 104th House, he had been in the House for almost 20 years, had served as chairman of the Democratic Caucus for four years, had been a 1988 presidential candidate, and had been majority leader from June 1989 until Republicans captured control of the House in the November 1994 elections. Gephardt's predecessor in the minority leadership position was Robert Michel, R-IL, who became GOP Leader in 1981 after spending 24 years in the House. Michel's predecessor, Republican John Rhodes of Arizona, was elected Minority Leader in 1973 after 20 years of House service.
By contrast, party leaders of the United States Senate have often ascended to their position despite relatively few years of experience in that chamber, such as Lyndon B. Johnson, William F. Knowland, Tom Daschle, and Bill Frist. Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also had a comparatively quick rise to the post and was the youngest House Majority Leader in American history.
The House Majority Leader's duties vary, depending upon the political makeup of the majority caucus. In several recent sessions of Congress, with the notable exception of the Pelosi speakership, the Majority Leader has been primarily responsible for scheduling the House floor's legislative calendar and direct management for all House committees.
One statutory duty, per President of the United States for a fast-track negotiating authority (trade promotion authority) trade agreement must be introduced (by request) in the House by the Majority Leader of the House., stipulates that an implementing bill submitted by the
Before 1899, the majority party floor leader had traditionally been the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the most powerful committee in the House, as it generates the Bills of Revenue specified in the Constitution as the House's unique power.
The office of Majority Leader was created in 1899 and first occupied by Sereno Payne. Speaker David B. Henderson created the position to establish a party leader on the House floor separate from the Speaker, as the role of Speaker had become more prominent and the size of the House had grown from 105 at the beginning of the century to 356.
Starting with Republican Nicholas Longworth in 1925 and continued through the Democrats' control of the House from 1931 to 1995, save for Republican majorities in 1947–49 and 1953–55, all majority leaders have directly ascended to the Speakership brought upon by the retirement of the incumbent. The only exceptions during this period were Charles A. Halleck, who became Republican House leader and Minority Leader from 1959 to 1965; Hale Boggs, who died in a plane crash; and Dick Gephardt, who became the Democrats' House leader, but as Minority Leader since his party lost control in the 1994 midterm elections. Since 1995, the only Majority Leader to become Speaker is John Boehner, though indirectly as his party lost control in the 2006 midterms elections. He subsequently served as Republican House leader and Minority Leader from 2007 to 2011 and then was elected Speaker when the House reconvened in 2011. In 1998, when Speaker Newt Gingrich announced his resignation, neither Majority Leader Dick Armey nor Majority Whip Tom DeLay contested the Speakership, which eventually went to Chief Deputy Whip Dennis Hastert.
Traditionally, the Speaker is reckoned as the leader of the majority party in the House, with the Majority Leader as second-in-command. For instance, when the Republicans gained the majority in the House after the 2010 elections, Boehner ascended to the Speakership while Eric Cantor succeeded Boehner as Majority Leader. Despite this, Cantor and his successor, Kevin McCarthy, were reckoned as the second-ranking Republicans in the House, since Boehner and his successor as Speaker, Paul Ryan, were reckoned as the leaders of the House Republicans. However, there have been some exceptions. The most recent exception to this rule came when Majority Leader Tom DeLay generally overshadowed Speaker Dennis Hastert from 2003 to 2006.
In contrast, the Minority Leader is the undisputed leader of the minority party. For example, when the Republicans lost their majority in the 2018 elections, McCarthy was elected as Minority Leader and hence replaced Ryan as the highest-ranking House Republican.
When the Presidency and both Houses of Congress are controlled by one party, the Speaker normally takes a low profile and defers to the President. For that situation, the House Minority Leader can play the role of a de facto "leader of the opposition", often more so than the Senate Minority Leader, owing to the more partisan nature of the House and the greater role of leadership.
When the Majority Leader's party loses control of the House, and if the Speaker and Majority Leader both remain in the leadership hierarchy, convention suggests that they would become the Minority Leader and Minority Whip, respectively. As the minority party has one less leadership position after losing the speaker's chair, there may be a contest for the remaining leadership positions. Nancy Pelosi is the most recent example of an outgoing Speaker seeking the Minority Leader post to retain the House party leadership, as the Democrats lost control of the House in the 2010 elections. She ran successfully for Minority Leader in the 112th Congress.
In 2014, Eric Cantor became the first House Majority Leader to lose a primary election. Following his primary defeat, Cantor announced his resignation as Majority Leader, effective July 31, 2014, and he subsequently resigned his seat in Congress.
From an institutional perspective, the rules of the House assign a number of specific responsibilities to the minority leader. For example, Rule XII, clause 6, grant the minority leader (or their designee) the right to offer a motion to recommit with instructions; Rule II, clause 6, states the Inspector General shall be appointed by joint recommendation of the Speaker, majority leader, and minority leader; and Rule XV, clause 6, provides that the Speaker, after consultation with the minority leader, may place legislation on the Corrections Calendar. The minority leader also has other institutional duties, such as appointing individuals to certain federal entities.
From a party perspective, the minority leader has a wide range of partisan assignments, all geared toward retaking majority control of the House. Five principal party activities direct the work of the minority leader.
- The minority leader provides campaign assistance to party incumbents and challengers.
- The minority leader devises strategies, in consultation with other partisan colleagues, that advance party objectives. For example, by stalling action on the majority party's agenda, the minority leader may be able to launch a campaign against a "do-nothing Congress."
- The minority leader works to promote and publicize the party's agenda.
- The minority leader, if their party controls the White House, confers regularly with the President and the President's aides about issues before Congress, the Administration's agenda, and political events generally.
- The minority leader strives to promote party harmony so as to maximize the chances for legislative and political success.
The roles and responsibilities of the minority leader are not well-defined. To a large extent, the functions of the minority leader are defined by tradition and custom. A minority leader from 1931 to 1939, Representative Bertrand Snell, R-N.Y., provided this "job description": "He is spokesman for his party and enunciates its policies. He is required to be alert and vigilant in defense of the minority's rights. It is his function and duty to criticize constructively the policies and programs of the majority, and to this end employ parliamentary tactics and give close attention to all proposed legislation."
Since Snell's description, other responsibilities have been added to the job. These duties involve an array of institutional and party functions. Before examining the institutional and party assignments of the minority leader, it is worth highlighting the historical origin of this position.
Origin of the post
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To a large extent, the minority leader's position is a 20th-century innovation. Prior to this time congressional parties were often relatively disorganized, so it was not always evident who functioned as the opposition floor leader. Decades went by before anything like the modern two-party congressional system emerged on Capitol Hill with official titles for those who were its official leaders. However, from the earliest days of Congress, various House members intermittently assumed the role of "opposition leader". Some scholars suggest that Representative James Madison of Virginia informally functioned as the first "minority leader" because in the First Congress he led the opposition to Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton's fiscal policies.
During this early period, it was more usual that neither major party grouping (Federalists and Democratic-Republicans) had an official leader. In 1813, for instance, a scholar recounts that the Federalist minority of 36 Members needed a committee of 13 "to represent a party comprising a distinct minority" and "to coordinate the actions of men who were already partisans in the same cause." In 1828, a foreign observer of the House offered this perspective on the absence of formal party leadership on Capitol Hill:
- I found there were absolutely no persons holding the stations of what are called, in England, Leaders, on either side of the House.... It is true, that certain members do take charge of administration questions, and certain others of opposition questions; but all this so obviously without concert among themselves, actual or tacit, that nothing can be conceived less systematic or more completely desultory, disjointed.
Internal party disunity compounded the difficulty of identifying lawmakers who might have informally functioned as a minority leader. For instance, "seven of the fourteen speakership elections from 1834 through 1859 had at least twenty different candidates in the field. Thirty-six competed in 1839, ninety-seven in 1849, ninety-one in 1859, and 138 in 1855." With so many candidates competing for the speakership, it is not at all clear that one of the defeated lawmakers then assumed the mantle of "minority leader." The Democratic minority from 1861 to 1875 was so completely disorganized that they did not "nominate a candidate for Speaker in two of these seven Congresses and nominated no man more than once in the other five. The defeated candidates were not automatically looked to for leadership."
In the judgment of political scientist Randall Ripley, since 1883 "the candidate for Speaker nominated by the minority party has clearly been the Minority Leader." However, this assertion is subject to dispute. On December 3, 1883, the House elected Democrat John G. Carlisle of Kentucky as Speaker. Republicans placed in nomination for the speakership J. Warren Keifer of Ohio, who was Speaker the previous Congress. Clearly, Keifer was not the Republicans' minority leader. He was a discredited leader in part because as Speaker he arbitrarily handed out "choice jobs to close relatives ... all at handsome salaries." Keifer received "the empty honor of the minority nomination. But with it came a sting -- for while this naturally involves the floor leadership, he was deserted by his [partisan] associates and his career as a national figure terminated ingloriously." Representative Thomas Reed, R-ME, who later became Speaker, assumed the de facto role of minority floor leader in Keifer's stead. "[A]lthough Keifer was the minority's candidate for Speaker, Reed became its acknowledged leader, and ever after, so long as he served in the House, remained the most conspicuous member of his party.
Another scholar contends that the minority leader position emerged even before 1883. On the Democratic side, "there were serious caucus fights for the minority speakership nomination in 1871 and 1873," indicating that the "nomination carried with it some vestige of leadership." Further, when Republicans were in the minority, the party nominated for Speaker a series of prominent lawmakers, including ex-Speaker James Blaine of Maine in 1875, former Appropriations Chairman James A. Garfield of Ohio, in 1876, 1877, and 1879, and ex-Speaker Keifer in 1883. "It is hard to believe that House partisans would place a man in the speakership when in the majority, and nominate him for this office when in the minority, and not look to him for legislative guidance." This was not the case, according to some observers, with respect to ex-Speaker Keifer.
In brief, there is disagreement among historical analysts as to the exact time period when the minority leadership emerged officially as a party position. Nonetheless, it seems safe to conclude that the position emerged during the latter part of the 19th century, a period of strong party organization and professional politicians. This era was "marked by strong partisan attachments, resilient patronage-based party organizations, and...high levels of party voting in Congress." Plainly, these were conditions conducive to the establishment of a more highly differentiated House leadership structure.
Minority party nominees for Speaker, 1865–1897
While the Office of the House Historian only lists Minority Leaders starting in 1899, the minority's nominees for Speaker (at the beginning of each Congress) may be considered their party's leaders before that time.
- 1865: James Brooks (D-NY)
- 1867: Samuel S. Marshall (D-IL)
- 1869: Michael C. Kerr (D-IN)
- 1871: George W. Morgan (D-OH)
- 1873: Fernando Wood (D-NY)
- 1875: James Gillespie Blaine (R-ME)
- 1877, 1879: James Abram Garfield (R-OH)
- 1881: Samuel Jackson Randall (D-PA)
- 1883: Joseph Warren Keifer (R-OH)
- 1885, 1887: Thomas Brackett Reed (R-ME)
- 1889: John Griffin Carlisle (D-KY)
- 1891, 1893: Thomas Brackett Reed (R-ME)
- 1895: Charles F. Crisp (D-GA)
- 1897: Joseph W. Bailey (D-TX)
Two other points of historical interest merit brief mention. First, until the 61st Congress (1909–1910), "it was the custom to have the minority leader also serve as the ranking minority member on the two most powerful committees, Rules and Ways and Means." Today, the minority leader no longer serves on these committees; however, he or she appoints the minority members of the Rules Committee and influences the assignment of partisan colleagues to the Ways and Means Committee.
Second, Democrats have always elevated their minority floor leader to the speakership upon reclaiming majority status. Republicans have not always followed this leadership succession pattern. In 1919, for instance, Republicans bypassed James R. Mann, R-IL, who had been minority leader for eight years, and elected Frederick Gillett, R-MA, to be Speaker. Mann "had angered many Republicans by objecting to their private bills on the floor;" also he was a protégé of autocratic Speaker Joseph Cannon, R-IL (1903–1911), and many Members "suspected that he would try to re-centralize power in his hands if elected Speaker." More recently, although Robert H. Michel was the Minority Leader in 1994 when the Republicans regained control of the House in the 1994 midterm elections, he had already announced his retirement and had little or no involvement in the campaign, including the Contract with America which was unveiled six weeks before voting day.
In the instance when the Presidency and both Houses of Congress are controlled by one party, the Speaker normally assumes a lower profile and defers to the President. For that situation the House Minority Leader can play the role of a de facto "leader of the opposition", often more so than the Senate Minority Leader, due to the more partisan nature of the House and the greater role of leadership. Minority Leaders who have played prominent roles in opposing the incumbent President have included Gerald Ford, Richard Gephardt, Nancy Pelosi, and John Boehner.
The style and role of any minority leader is influenced by a variety of elements, including personality and contextual factors, such as the size and cohesion of the minority party, whether their party controls the White House, the general political climate in the House, and the controversy that is sometimes associated with the legislative agenda. Despite the variability of these factors, there are a number of institutional obligations associated with this position. Many of these assignments or roles are spelled out in the House rule book. Others have devolved upon the position in other ways. To be sure, the minority leader is provided with extra staff resources—beyond those accorded him or her as a Representative—to assist in carrying out diverse leadership functions. Worth emphasis is that there are limits on the institutional role of the minority leader, because the majority party exercises disproportionate influence over the agenda, partisan ratios on committees, staff resources, administrative operations, and the day-to-day schedule and management of floor activities.
Under the rules of the House, the minority leader has certain roles and responsibilities. They include the following:
Drug Testing. Under Rule I, clause 9, the "Speaker, in consultation with the Minority Leader, shall develop through an appropriate entity of the House a system for drug testing in the House."
Inspector General. Rule II, clause 6, states that the "Inspector General shall be appointed for a Congress by the Speaker, the Majority Leader, and the Minority Leader, acting jointly." This rule further states that the minority leader and other specified House leaders shall be notified of any financial irregularity involving the House and receive audit reports of the inspector general.
Questions of Privilege. Under Rule IX, clause 2, a resolution "offered as a question of privilege by the Majority Leader or the Minority Leader ... shall have precedence of all other questions except motions to adjourn." This rule further references the minority leader with respect to the division of time for debate of these resolutions.
Oversight Plans. Under Rule X, clause 2, not later "than March 31 in the first session of a Congress, after consultation with the Speaker, the Majority Leader, and the Minority Leader, the Committee on Government Reform shall report to the House the oversight plans" of the standing committees along with any recommendations it or the House leaders have proposed to ensure the effective coordination of committees' oversight plans.
Committee on Standards of Official Conduct: Investigative Subcommittees. Rule X, clause 5, stipulates: "At the beginning of a Congress, the Speaker or his designee and the Minority Leader or his designee each shall appoint 10 Members, Delegates, or Resident Commissioners from his respective party who are not members of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to be available to serve on investigative subcommittees of that committee during that Congress."
Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. "The Speaker and Minority Leader shall be ex officio members of the select committee but shall have no vote in the select committee and may not be counted for purposes of determining a quorum." In addition, each leader may designate a member of his leadership staff to assist him with his ex officio duties. (Rule X, clause 11).
Motion to Recommit with Instructions. Under Rule XIII, clause 6, the Rules Committee may not (except in certain specified circumstances) issue a "rule" that prevents the minority leader or a designee from offering a motion to recommit with instructions.
In addition, the minority leader has a number of other institutional functions. For instance, the minority leader is sometimes statutorily authorized to appoint individuals to certain federal entities; he or she and the majority leader each name three Members to serve as Private Calendar objectors; he or she is consulted with respect to reconvening the House per the usual formulation of conditional concurrent adjournment resolutions; he or she is a traditional member of the House Office Building Commission; he or she is a member of the United States Capitol Preservation Commission; and he or she may, after consultation with the Speaker, convene an early organizational party caucus or conference. Informally, the minority leader maintains ties with majority party leaders to learn about the schedule and other House matters and forges agreements or understandings with them insofar as feasible.
The minority leader has a number of formal and informal party responsibilities. Formally, the rules of each party specify certain roles and responsibilities for their leader. For example, under Democratic rules for the 106th Congress, the minority leader may call meetings of the Democratic Caucus. He or she is a member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; names the members of the Democratic Leadership Council; chairs the Policy Committee; and heads the Steering Committee. Examples of other assignments are making "recommendations to the Speaker on all Democratic Members who shall serve as conferees" and nominating party members to the Committees on Rules and House Administration. Republican rules identify generally comparable functions for their top party leader.
Informally, the minority leader has a wide range of party assignments. Lewis Deschler, the late House Parliamentarian (1928–1974), summarized the diverse duties of a party's floor leader:
A party's floor leader, in conjunction with other party leaders, plays an influential role in the formulation of party policy and programs. They are instrumental in guiding legislation favored by his party through the House, or in resisting those programs of the other party that are considered undesirable by his own party. They are instrumental in devising and implementing his party's strategy on the floor with respect to promoting or opposing legislation. They are kept constantly informed as to the status of legislative business and as to the sentiment of his party respecting particular legislation under consideration. Such information is derived in part from the floor leader's contacts with his party's members serving on House committees, and with the members of the party's whip organization.
These and several other party roles merit further mention because they influence significantly the leader's overarching objective: retake majority control of the House. "I want to get [my] members elected and win more seats," said Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-MO. "That's what [my partisan colleagues] want to do, and that's what they want me to do."
Five activities illustrate how minority leaders seek to accomplish this primary goal.
Provide Campaign Assistance. Minority leaders are typically energetic and aggressive campaigners for partisan incumbents and challengers. There is hardly any major aspect of campaigning that does not engage their attention. For example, they assist in recruiting qualified candidates; they establish "leadership PACs" to raise and distribute funds to House candidates of their party; they try to persuade partisan colleagues not to retire or run for other offices so as to hold down the number of open seats the party would need to defend; they coordinate their campaign activities with congressional and national party campaign committees; they encourage outside groups to back their candidates; they travel around the country to speak on behalf of party candidates; and they encourage incumbent colleagues to make significant financial contributions to the party's campaign committee. "The amount of time that [Minority Leader] Gephardt is putting in to help the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] is unheard of," noted a Democratic lobbyist."No DCCC chairman has ever had that kind of support."
Devise Minority Party Strategies. The minority leader, in consultation with other party colleagues, has a range of strategic options that he or she can employ to advance minority party objectives. The options selected depend on a wide range of circumstances, such as the visibility or significance of the issue and the degree of cohesion within the majority party. For instance, a majority party riven by internal dissension, as occurred during the early 1900s when Progressive and "regular" Republicans were at loggerheads, may provide the minority leader with greater opportunities to achieve their priorities than if the majority party exhibited high degrees of party cohesion. Among the variable strategies available to the minority party, which can vary from bill to bill and be used in combination or at different stages of the lawmaking process, are the following:
Cooperation. The minority party supports and cooperates with the majority party in building winning coalitions on the floor.
Inconsequential Opposition. The minority party offers opposition, but it is of marginal significance, typically because the minority is so small.
Withdrawal. The minority party chooses not to take a position on an issue, perhaps because of intraparty divisions.
Innovation. The minority party develops alternatives and agendas of its own and attempts to construct winning coalitions on their behalf.
Partisan Opposition. The minority party offers strong opposition to majority party initiatives but does not counter with policy alternatives of their own.
Constructive Opposition. The minority party opposes initiatives of the majority party and offers its own proposals as substitutes.
Participation. The minority party is in the position of having to consider the views and proposals of their president and to assess their majority-building role with respect to his priorities.[a]
A look at one minority leadership strategy—partisan opposition—may suggest why it might be employed in specific circumstances. The purposes of obstruction are several, such as frustrating the majority party's ability to govern or attracting press and media attention to the alleged ineffectiveness of the majority party. "We know how to delay," remarked Minority Leader Gephardt Dilatory motions to adjourn, appeals of the presiding officer's ruling, or numerous requests for roll call votes are standard time-consuming parliamentary tactics. By stalling action on the majority party's agenda, the minority leader may be able to launch a campaign against a "do-nothing Congress" and convince enough voters to put his party back in charge of the House. To be sure, the minority leader recognizes that "going negative" carries risks and may not be a winning strategy if his party fails to offer policy alternatives that appeal to broad segments of the general public.
Promote and Publicize the Party's Agenda. An important aim of the minority leader is to develop an electorally attractive agenda of ideas and proposals that unites their own House members and that energizes and appeals to core electoral supporters as well as independents and swing voters. Despite the minority leader's restricted ability to set the House's agenda, there are still opportunities for him to raise minority priorities. For example, the minority leader may employ, or threaten to use, discharge petitions to try and bring minority priorities to the floor. If he or she is able to attract the required 218 signatures on a discharge petition by attracting majority party supporters, he or she can force minority initiatives to the floor over the opposition of the majority leadership. As a GOP minority leader once said, the challenges he confronted are to "keep our people together, and to look for votes on the other side."
Minority leaders may engage in numerous activities to publicize their party's priorities and to criticize the opposition's. For instance, to keep their party colleagues "on message," they insure that partisan colleagues are sent packets of suggested press releases or "talking points" for constituent meetings in their districts; they help to organize "town meetings" in Members' districts around the country to publicize the party's agenda or a specific priority, such as health care or education; they sponsor party "retreats" to discuss issues and assess the party's public image; they create "theme teams" to craft party messages that might be raised during the one-minute, morning hour, or special order period in the House; they conduct surveys of party colleagues to discern their policy preferences; they establish websites that highlight and distribute party images and issues to users; and they organize task forces or issue teams to formulate party programs and to develop strategies for communicating these programs to the public.
House minority leaders also hold joint news conferences and consult with their counterparts in the Senate—and with the president if their party controls the White House. The overall objectives are to develop a coordinated communications strategy, to share ideas and information, and to present a united front on issues. Minority leaders also make floor speeches and close debate on major issues before the House; they deliver addresses in diverse forums across the country, and they write books or articles that highlight minority party goals and achievements. They must also be prepared "to debate on the floor, ad lib, no notes, on a moment's notice," remarked Minority Leader Michel. In brief, minority leaders are key strategists in developing and promoting the party's agenda and in outlining ways to neutralize the opposition's arguments and proposals.
Confer With the White House. If their party controls the White House, the minority leader confers regularly with the President and his aides about issues before Congress, the Administration's agenda, and political events generally. Strategically, the role of the minority leader will vary depending on whether the President is of the same party or the other party. In general, minority leaders will often work to advance the goals and aspirations of their party's President in Congress. When Robert Michel, R-IL, was minority leader (1981–1995), he typically functioned as the "point man" for Republican presidents. President Ronald Reagan's 1981 policy successes in the Democratic-controlled House was due in no small measure to Minority Leader Michel's effectiveness in wooing so-called "Reagan Democrats" to support, for instance, the Administration's landmark budget reconciliation bill. There are occasions, of course, when minority leaders will fault the legislative initiatives of their President. On an administration proposal that could adversely affect his district, Michel stated that he might "abdicate my leadership role [on this issue] since I can't harmonize my own views with the administration's." Minority Leader Gephardt, as another example, has publicly opposed a number of President Clinton's legislative initiatives from "fast track" trade authority to various budget issues.
When the White House is controlled by the House majority party, then the House minority leader assumes a larger role in formulating alternatives to executive branch initiatives and in acting as a national spokesperson for their party. "As Minority Leader during [President Lyndon Johnson's] Democratic administration, my responsibility has been to propose Republican alternatives," said Minority Leader Gerald Ford, R-MI. Greatly outnumbered in the House, Minority Leader Ford devised a political strategy that allowed Republicans to offer their alternatives in a manner that provided them political protection. As Ford explained:
"We used a technique of laying our program out in general debate," he said. When we got to the amendment phase, we would offer our program as a substitute for the Johnson proposal. If we lost in the Committee of the Whole, then we would usually offer it as a motion to recommit and get a vote on that. And if we lost on the motion to recommit, our Republican members had a choice: They could vote against the Johnson program and say we did our best to come up with a better alternative. Or they could vote for it and make the same argument. Usually we lost; but when you're only 140 out of 435, you don't expect to win many.
Ford also teamed with Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, R-IL, to act as national spokesmen for their party. They met with the press every Thursday following the weekly joint leadership meeting. Ford's predecessor as minority leader, Charles Halleck, R-IN, probably received more visibility in this role, because the press and media dubbed it the "Ev and Charlie Show." In fact, the "Republican National Committee budgeted $30,000 annually to produce the weekly news conference."
Foster Party Harmony. Minority status, by itself, is often an important inducement for minority party members to stay together, to accommodate different interests, and to submerge intraparty factional disagreements. To hold a diverse membership together often requires extensive consultations and discussions with rank-and-file Members and with different factional groupings. As Minority Leader Gephardt said:
- We have weekly caucus meetings. We have daily leadership meetings. We have weekly ranking Member meetings. We have party effectiveness meetings. There's a lot more communication. I believe leadership is bottom up, not top down. I think you have to build policy and strategy and vision from the bottom up, and involve people in figuring out what that is.
Gephardt added that "inclusion and empowerment of the people on the line have to be done to get the best performance" from the minority party. Other techniques for fostering party harmony include the appointment of task forces composed of partisan colleagues with conflicting views to reach consensus on issues; the creation of new leadership positions as a way to reach out and involve a greater diversity of partisans in the leadership structure; and daily meetings in the Leader's office (or at breakfast, lunch, or dinner) to lay out floor strategy or political objectives for the minority party.
Party whips and assistant party leaders
A whip manages their party's legislative program on the House floor. The whip keeps track of all legislation and ensures that all party members are present when important measures are to be voted upon.
The Majority Whip is an elected member of the majority party who assists the Speaker of the House and the majority leader to coordinate ideas on, and garner support for, proposed legislation. He or she is reckoned as the third-ranking member of his or her party behind the Speaker and the Majority Leader.
The Minority Whip is a member of the minority party who assists the minority leader in coordinating the party caucus in its responses to legislation and other matters. He or she is reckoned as the second most powerful member of his or her party, behind the minority leader. However, the U.S. House of Representatives does not use the term "minority whip," instead calling the position "Republican Whip" or "Democratic Whip" depending on the minority party.
The Chief Deputy Whip is the primary assistant to the whip, who is the chief vote counter for their party. The current chief deputy minority whip is Republican Drew Ferguson. Within the House Republican Conference, the chief deputy whip is the highest appointed position and often a launching pad for future positions in the House Leadership. Cantor and McCarthy, for instance, served as chief deputy Republican whips before ascending to the majority leader's post. The House Democratic Conference has multiple chief deputy whips, led by a Senior Chief Deputy Whip, which is the highest appointed position within the House Democratic Caucus. John Lewis held this post from 1991 until his death in 2020. Jan Schakowsky held the position of senior chief deputy majority whip along with Lewis since 2019, previously holding a position as chief deputy whip since 2005. Between 1955 and 1973, the Democrats simply had the title Deputy Whip.
- List of Republican Chief Deputy Whips
- 1981–1983: David F. Emery (Minority)
- 1983–1987: Tom Loeffler (Minority)
- 1987–1989: Edward Rell Madigan (Minority)
- 1989–1993: Steve Gunderson and Robert Smith Walker (Minority)
- 1993–1995: Robert Smith Walker (Minority)
- 1995–1999: Dennis Hastert (Majority)
- 1999–2003: Roy Blunt (Majority)
- 2003–2009: Eric Cantor (Majority, 2003–2007; Minority, 2007–2009)
- 2009–2011: Kevin McCarthy (Minority)
- 2011–2014: Peter Roskam (Majority)
- 2014–2019: Patrick McHenry (Majority)
- 2019–present: Drew Ferguson (Minority)
- List of Democratic Chief Deputy Whips
- 1955–1962: Hale Boggs (Majority)
- 1962–1971: Tip O'Neill (Majority)
- 1971–1973: John Brademas, John J. McFall (Majority)
- 1973–1977: John Brademas (Majority)
- 1977–1981: Dan Rostenkowski (Majority)
- 1981–1987: Bill Alexander (Majority)
- 1987–1991: David Bonior (Majority)
- 1991–1993: Butler Derrick, Barbara Kennelly, John Lewis (Majority)
- 1993–1995: Butler Derrick, Barbara Kennelly, John Lewis, Bill Richardson (Majority)
- 1995–1997: Rosa DeLauro, John Lewis, Bill Richardson (Minority)
- 1997–1999: Rosa DeLauro, Chet Edwards, John Lewis, Bob Menendez (Minority)
- 1999–2002: Chet Edwards, John Lewis, Ed Pastor, Maxine Waters (Minority)
- 2002–2003: John Lewis, Ed Pastor, Max Sandlin, Maxine Waters (Minority)
- 2003–2005: John Lewis (Senior Chief Deputy Whip), Joe Crowley, Baron Hill, Ron Kind, Ed Pastor, Max Sandlin, Jan Schakowsky, Maxine Waters (Minority)
- 2005–2007: John Lewis (Senior Chief Deputy Whip), Joe Crowley, Diana DeGette, Ron Kind, Ed Pastor, Jan Schakowsky, John Tanner, Maxine Waters (Minority)
- 2007–2011: John Lewis (Senior Chief Deputy Whip), G. K. Butterfield, Joe Crowley, Diana DeGette, Ed Pastor, Jan Schakowsky, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, John Tanner, Maxine Waters (Majority)
- 2011–2013: John Lewis (Senior Chief Deputy Whip), G. K. Butterfield, Joe Crowley, Diana DeGette, Jim Matheson, Ed Pastor, Jan Schakowsky, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Maxine Waters, Peter Welch (Minority)
- 2013–2015: John Lewis (Senior Chief Deputy Whip), G. K. Butterfield, Diana DeGette, Keith Ellison, Ben Ray Lujan, Jim Matheson, Jan Schakowsky, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Terri Sewell, Peter Welch (Minority)
- 2015–2019: John Lewis (Senior Chief Deputy Whip), G. K. Butterfield, Joaquin Castro, Diana DeGette, Keith Ellison, Jan Schakowsky, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Terri Sewell, Kyrsten Sinema, Peter Welch (Minority)
- 2019–present: Cedric Richmond (until January 15, 2021) (Assistant to the Majority Whip), John Lewis (until July 17, 2020), Jan Schakowsky (Senior Chief Deputy Whips), Pete Aguilar, G. K. Butterfield, Henry Cuellar, Sheila Jackson Lee, Dan Kildee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Terri Sewell, Peter Welch (Majority)
Assistant party leaders
The position of Assistant Democratic Leader was established by Nancy Pelosi on January 3, 2011 and filled by Jim Clyburn to avoid a battle for whip between then-Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and then-Majority Whip Jim Clyburn. The title has undergone several name changes, with the title currently known as the titular “Assistant Speaker of the House of Representatives”; it is said to replace the Assistant to the Leader post first established in 1999; and previously held by Chris Van Hollen. There is currently no Republican equivalent in the U.S. House of Representatives.
- List of House Democratic Assistants to the Leader
- 1999–2003: Rosa DeLauro
- 2003–2007: John Spratt
- 2007–2009: Xavier Becerra
- 2009–2011: Chris Van Hollen
- List of House Assistant Democratic Leaders
- 2011–2019: Jim Clyburn
- List of Assistant Speakers of the House of Representatives
List of party leaders and whips
The Speaker and President are included for historical and comparative reference.
- These strategic options have been modified to a degree and come from Jones, The Minority Party in Congress, p. 20.
- Sources differ on the dates that Underwood served as Whip:
- One indicates that he served from 1899 to 1901. See "Democratic Whips". Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives. Archived from the original on October 11, 2011. Retrieved April 21, 2010.
- Another indicates that he served only during 1901. See Heitshusen, Valerie (February 27, 2007). "Party Leaders in Congress, 1789-2007: Vital Statistics" (PDF). Congressional Research Service: CRS–11. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 27, 2010. Retrieved April 21, 2010. Cite journal requires
- According to a contemporary newspaper article, "Representative Underwood has been voluntarily filling that position [Democratic whip] since Congress convened" (December 4, 1899). See "Call for a Democratic Caucus". The New York Times. January 9, 1900. p. 8.
- This article incorporates public domain material from the Congressional Research Service document: Mark J. Oleszek. "The Role of the House Minority Leader: An Overview" (PDF).
- "N.Y. Dem might vote for Boehner". Politico. November 23, 2010. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
- "Majority leader, vus ist?". JTA. January 5, 2011. Archived from the original on March 28, 2012. Retrieved January 4, 2011.
- Heitshusen, Valerie (April 24, 2017). Party Leaders in the House: Election, Duties, and Responsibilities (PDF) (Report). Congressional Research Service. pp. 2–3. RS20881. Retrieved July 24, 2017.
- Berg-Andersson, Richard E. (June 7, 2001). "A Brief History of Congressional Leadership". The Green Papers (self-published website & blog). Retrieved January 5, 2006.
- "Majority Leaders of the House (1899 to present)". U.S. House History, Art & Archives. U.S. House of Representatives. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
- "Best & Worst of Congress - News & Features". washingtonian.com. September 2004. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
- "Pelosi wants to remain leader". Miami Herald.[dead link]
- Memoli, Michael A. (November 17, 2010). "Nancy Pelosi is House minority leader". Los Angeles Times.
- "Eric Cantor will leave House leadership post after stunning loss". CNN. June 11, 2014.
- Zeleny, Jeff; Parkinson, John (June 11, 2014). "Eric Cantor Stepping Down as House Majority Leader". ABC News.
- Kim, Clare (June 10, 2014). "Eric Cantor loses GOP primary to tea party challenger Dave Brat". MSNBC. Retrieved June 11, 2014.
- "Cantor's Loss: A Stunning Upset". The Atlantic. Politico.com. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
- Ostermeier, Eric (June 10, 2014). "Eric Cantor 1st House Majority Leader to Lose Renomination Bid in History". Smart Politics. Archived from the original on June 12, 2014. Retrieved June 11, 2014.
- Costa, Robert (June 10, 2014). "Eric Cantor Succumbs to Tea Party Challenger Tuesday". The Washington Post.
- "Eric Cantor Tells Virginia Newspaper He'll Resign in August". NBC News. August 1, 2014.
- Quoted in Riddick, Floyd M. (1941). Congressional Procedure. Boston: Chapman and Grimes. p. 346.
- See Nelson, Garrison (Fall 1976). "Leadership Position-Holding in the United States House of Representatives". Capitol Studies (4): 17.
- Young, James Sterling (1966). The Washington Community, 1800-1828. New York: Harcourt Brace. pp. 135–136.
- Young, James Sterling (1966). The Washington Community, 1800-1828. New York: Harcourt Brace. p. 137.
- Nelson, Garrison (Fall 1976). "Leadership Position-Holding in the United States House of Representatives". Capitol Studies (4): 18.
- Ripley, Randall B. (1967). Party Leaders in the House of Representatives. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution. pp. 28n.
- Ripley, Randall B. (1967). Party Leaders in the House of Representatives. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution. p. 28.
- McNeil, Neil (1963). Forge of Democracy: The House of Representatives. New York: David McKay Co. p. 70.
- Herbert Bruce Fuller, The Speakers of the House (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1909), p. 208.
- DeAlva Stanwood Alexander, History and Procedure of the House of Representatives (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1916), p. 131.
- Nelson, Garrison (Fall 1976). "Leadership Position-Holding in the United States House of Representatives". Capitol Studies (4): 19.
- Randall Strahan, "Thomas Brackett Reed and the Rise of Party Government," in Roger Davidson, et al., eds., Masters of the House (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1998), p. 36.
- See Polsby, Nelson (September 1968). "The Institutionalization of the U.S. House of Representatives". American Political Science Review. pp. 144–168.
- "Minority Leaders of the House (1899 to present) | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". history.house.gov. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
- Sources: Fighting for the Speakership: The House and the Rise of Party Government, by Jeffery A. Jenkins and Charles Haines Stewart and Archive of OurCampaigns.com
- Charles O. Jones, The Minority Party in Congress (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1970), p. 31.
- Ripley, Randall B. (1967). Party Leaders in the House of Representatives. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution. pp. 98–99.
- Lewis Deschler, Deschler's Precedents of the United States House of Representatives, Vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1977), pp. 211-212.
- Guy Gugliotta, "For Minority Leader, A Matter of Consensus; Inquiry Vote Tests Gephardt's Skills," The Washington Post, October 8, 1998, pp. A18.
- Barnes, James A.; Stone, Peter H. (February 26, 2000). "A Rich Harvest on the Hill". National Journal. p. 640.
- Babson, Jennifer (July 15, 1995). "Democrats Refine the Tactics of Minority Party Power". Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report. Congressional Quarterly. p. 2037.
- Wallison, Ethan (May 17, 1999). "Gephardt Plans Petition Strategy". Roll Call. p. 1.
- Arieff, Irwin (February 28, 1981). "Inside Congress". Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report. Congressional Quarterly. p. 379.
- William F. Connelly, Jr. and John J. Pitney, Jr., Congress' Permanent Minority? Republicans in the U.S. House (Lanham, Maryland: Littlefield Adams, 1994), p. 15.
- Dorothy Collin, "Michel Plays to Peoria -- and U.S.," Chicago Tribune, August 16, 1982, p. 2.
- See Jim Vande Hei, "White House Sidesteps Gephardt's Leadership," Roll Call, July 7, 1997, p. 1.
- James M. Cannon, "Minority Leaders of the United States House of Representatives, 1965-1973," in Masters of the House, p. 275.
- James M. Cannon, "Minority Leaders of the United States House of Representatives, 1965-1973," in Masters of the House, p. 271.
- Burdette Loomis, "The Consummate Minority Leader: Everette M. Dirksen," in Richard Baker and Roger Davidson, eds., First Among Equals (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 1991), p. 250.
- Eliza Newlin Carney, "Don't Count Us Out," National Journal, April 29, 1995, p. 1024.
- Davidson, et al., Masters of the House, pp.323.
- Sinclair, Barbara (June 26, 1998). Legislators, Leaders, and Lawmaking: The U.S. House of Representatives in the Postreform Era. JHU Press. ISBN 9780801857126. Retrieved May 20, 2020 – via Google Books.