Party Leaders in Congress: An Overview (2023)

The elections are over, aren't they?

For the average American, yes. But it's a very different round of voting for members of Congress. Before a new congress is called, the Democratic and Republican parties in each chamber meet to elect a list of leaders who will serve them for the next two years.

What are party leaders?

Congressional leaders are responsible for developing the party's agenda, promoting party unity, communicating with the national press, working with the executive branch, and defending and increasing the number of party seats. have party leadership hierarchiesdevelopedabove thatYears, which first emerged as informal positions that were then formalized and expanded.

In the House of Representatives, the major elected leadership positions are:

  • speaker
  • Majority and Minority Leaders
  • Majority and minority whip
  • Chair and Vice Chair of the Republican Conference and Democratic Group
  • Vorsitzende des National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) und des Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

(As an aside, most of the time, the minority leader isn't referred to as "minority leader." Instead of the word "minority," party affiliation is added in its place. So, for example, during this convention, minority leader Kevin McCarthy was referred to as " Republican Leader". This was originated in the 1950s by Democrat Sam Rayburn and Republican Joe Martin. These two were good friends who went back and forth between Speaker and Minority Leader. Out of courtesy to his friend, Speaker Martin spared Rayburn the humiliation of being called "Leader of the Minority" and called him "Leader of the Democrats" instead, and Rayburn returned his friend's favor when their roles switched.But for our purposes here, that would only lead to confusion, so stay put we at the older traditional titles.)

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Both parties have minor leadership positions that are eligible. In addition, a number of management positions will be filled. TheRepublican ConferenceAndDemocratic factioneach list regulates which positions can be selected.

The Speaker is both the Speaker of the House of Representatives and a party leader. As Chair, she chairs debates, oversees the administration of the House, and performs many ceremonial functions at home and abroad. As the supreme leader of the party, she bears primary responsibility for the development of the party's political positions; moving legislation through the House; negotiations with the Senate and the White House; and to serve as the party's chief spokesman when the opposing party controls the White House. The Majority Leader has a share of the Speaker's party responsibilities, but is particularly responsible for administration when legislation hits the ground running. Because he is responsible for the House calendar of all his party leaders, he works most closely with his minority counterpart, the Minority Leader. The minority leader fulfills roughly the same partisan roles as the speaker, but without the institutional roles associated with the office. The whips in each party are responsible for securing a majority for the party's position on a bill, knowing how each member will vote on a bill, and communicating the party's position to the grassroots. The caucus and conference are the organizing bodies for the Democrats and Republicans and the forums in which the parties as a whole discuss issues related to politics, communications, and the general direction of the party. The caucus and conference chairmen lead their party meetings. Most effective chairmen provide the grassroots with the various resources they need to be successful as members of Congress. (For example, a good chair might help ordinary members raise their profile by connecting them to the national media.) The National Republican Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and their chairs each have two simple goals: Control over the Places they already have and win places they don't already have.

Likewise theRules of the Republican Senate Conferenceprovide that the following positions can be selected:

  • floor ladder
  • Assistant Floor Leader (aka Whip)
  • Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Republican Conference
  • Chairman of the Policy Committee
  • Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee

Senate Democrats do not publish their rules. According to oneCongressional Research Service report, the floor leader (who chairs the caucus ex officio) and the assistant floor leader (also traditionally called the whip) are eligible. Although the assistant floor leader is traditionally called the whip, Democrats shared the titles early in the 116ththCongress. Although the positions were divided, bothstayed selectable. Other senior positions include chairing the Policy and Communications Committee, the Steering Committee, the Campaign Committee, the Caucus Secretary, and vice-chairing various committees.

The leadership positions of the Senate are similar to those of the House of Representatives. The biggest difference is that while the Speaker has the most power in the House of Representatives, the Majority Leader in the Senate does. In the Senate, the Majority Leader is recognized first when seeking recognition, so he uses that privilege to control the flow of debate in the Chamber.

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How are party leaders elected?

Both parties in both chambers will meet after the congressional elections but before the start of the new congress in early January. During these sessions, members vote on their leaders. The House Republican Conference and the Democratic Caucus both mandate a poll, although Democrats allow a motion to waive the poll. The rules of the Senate Republican Conference also call for a secret ballot. (Senate Democrats don't publish their rules.)

Unlike the other leadership positions in the House of Representatives, the Speakership is subject to a vote in the House of Representatives. To be elected, a candidate needs a simple majority of all votes cast, and party leaders expect their base to vote with them regardless of who they voted for in the faction. If the base follows the leader's expectations, the majority candidate wins easily. And usually there isn't. It's been almost 100 years since it took over the housemultiple ballotsto elect a speaker, and the last time it happened in 1923 was the only time since the Civil War.

Although it is extremely rare for a speaker not to be elected on the first ballot, members occasionally do not endorse their party's candidate for speaker. They usually do this to express their dissatisfaction with the party's candidate. For example, in the 2018 midterm election, some Democrats campaigned that they would not vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker. In the speakership poll, 12 Democrats voted for other candidates and 3 responded "present." Five Republicans voted for someone other than Chairman Kevin McCarthy. (One Republican did not vote, but he was absent due to a serious illness.) Supporting another candidate is widely viewed as an affront to leadership, although it is forgivable. Supporting the other party's candidate is not. The last person to do so was the uber-colorful Democratic Rep. Jim Traficant of Ohio. He supported Speaker Denny Hastert, and in retaliation his party denied him all committee seats, the first time in about a yearcentury.

Because no House Rule requires a member to vote for his party's candidate for Speaker when discontent in the majority party is unusually high, people around Capitol Hill are speculating as to whether the candidate will have enough votes to keep him on the to fix the ground. If the difference between the parties is small, the probability that the candidate will not get a majority increases. There are 435 US representatives. If each of them votes in the speakership election, it takes 218 to win, as this is the majority of all votes cast. If only 1 person abstains then 218 is still required as that is still a majority. However, if 2 MPs abstain, 217 votes are required. If dissatisfied Majority Members do not vote in the Speakership Race, they do not contribute to their party candidate's vote count, but they do reduce the number of votes required to become Speaker. If they vote for another candidate, they affect the candidate's chances of being elected much more directly, since they both increase the number of votes required to win and do not contribute to reaching that threshold. Suppose there is a 218-217 split between the parties in the House of Representatives. All members vote, but one member with an unsatisfied majority votes for a third candidate; then the record would be 217-217-1 – no speaker would be elected. Or they abstain; the record is 217-217 - again no speaker. But as the majority increases, the party's candidate has more leeway to lose votes.

The failure of a majority party candidate to secure the speakership in the first round would still be a spectacle, while there is precedent. During the last convention, Speaker Pelosi failed to secure the votes of 15 Democrats. All eyes will be on the House of Representatives to see if she will be able to hold another election on the floor. On the one hand, she lost the votes of 15 Democrats in the last speakership election, and Republican leader Kevin McCarthy becamelike to point out, the Democrats have lost seats and the GOP will have significantly more power in the House of Representatives. On the other hand, Pelosi is considered a particularly skilled vote counter and caucus manager. Furthermore, even Democratic malcontents know that blocking a Pelosi speakership on the floor would embarrass the party and nearly paralyze it for the rest of Congress. Pelosi is likely to win in January.

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(For more on choosing a speaker, see our post “How the House chooses its Speaker.“)

Strictly speaking, the President of the Senate is also elected pro tempore by a plenary vote. However, because it is primarily a ceremonial position, floor election is more of a formality than speakership election. For example, at the beginning of the 116ththCongress elected Republican Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa to officeunanimous approval, with no opposition or nominees from the Democrats. (To our knowledge, the last time there was no opposition in a speakership was when Speaker William Bankhead, a Democrat, died mid-session and was succeeded by Majority Leader Sam Rayburn of Texas.) When Republicans take control of the Senate , Senator Chuck Grassley will remain pro-temporary president. If Democrats take control after the Georgia runoff, Sen. Patrick Leahy, who served as pro tempore president from December 2012 to January 2015, will take office again.

How do congressional elections affect leadership elections?

Electoral success is an important factor in determining future party leaders. A good year in national elections can mean a good year for incumbent leaders. When a party retains or increases its seats, leaders can usually count on holding their positions. Typically, when a party moves from minority to majority in the House of Representatives, the minority leader can expect to become speaker and the minority whip becomes the majority leader. Normally, when there is a change of control in the Senate, the minority leader becomes the majority leader.

A disastrous year could mean the party is looking for new leadership. After Republican defeats in 1998, Bob Livingston, chairman of the Louisiana House Appropriations, challenged Speaker Newt Gingrich, who then announced that he would not serve in the 106thCongress. Given last week's unexpected losses for House Democrats, there has been some speculation about a leadership change in the House of RepresentativesDemocratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). With a much smaller majority, Nancy Pelosi will have a harder time becoming speaker again next year, and some Democrats are reportedly tryingforce her out.

However, losing seats does not necessarily mean that a party will oust its leaders. Although Pelosi's speakership may be threatened this time, she also illustrates that point. The Democrats lost the majority under her oversight in 2010, but they still retained her as their minority leader. Losing seats doesn't necessarily have to fail a leader, as Congressmen understand that sometimes elections just don't go their way. This is especially true during the midterm elections when your party controls the White House. Historically, the president's party loses seats halfway through his term in office. As this is to be expected, the base is more forgiving of its leaders. But in any election, when losses are far greater than expected, leaders are more likely to be challenged.

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How else are the Speaker and the President pro tempore important to the country?

The speaker and the president pro tempore are also important as they are second and third in line for the presidency, respectively. This is perlegal right, not the constitution. Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution allows Congress to legislate on who shall assume the presidency when there is no president or vice president. No speaker or president pro tempore has ever assumed the presidency in this way.

Traditionally, the highest-ranking senator of the majority party is elected president pro tempore. It is a largely honorary post, so the person who holds it may serve as an influential senior statesman, and their managerial responsibilities associated with that post are limited. However, since seniority is an important feature of the Senate power structure, it is highly likely that a given president would be a committee chair pro tempore. The current pro tempore President, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, chairs the Finance Committee and previously chaired the Judiciary Committee. His predecessor, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, also chaired the Finance Committee. And his predecessor, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, was chairman of the Judiciary Committee. His predecessor, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, chaired the Appropriations Committee. By now you may have noticed that these presidents served pro tempore not only as chairs, but also as chairs of important committees—further evidence of the role of seniority in the Senate.

Some people say my congressman is a rising star. Does that mean they will be speakers one day?

Media covering Capitol Hill often run stories speculating about which young party members will be future leaders in their party. A younger lawmaker shouldn't let that attention go to his head. Such politicians often fizzle out after a misstep. In other cases, they simply move to other electoral offices. For example onePoliticallyArticle from last year pointed outMP Ben Ray Lujanfrom New Mexico "is viewed as a future contender for one of the caucus's top jobs—maybe even as speaker." He was just elected US Senator. He will join the Democratic SenatorChris van Hollenfrom Maryland, who people also believed might be a future speaker. Thankfully, he still has a job in Congress, unlike former Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, who was dubbed Nancy Pelosi's "heir" until he was defeated by Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez in the 2018 Democratic primary .

Mark Strand is the President of the Congressional Institute and Timothy Lang is the Institute's Director of Research.The Sausage FactoryBlog is a project of the Congressional Institute dedicated to explaining parliamentary process, congressional politics, and other issues related to the Legislature.


Who are the party leaders in Congress? ›

Current floor leaders

With the Republicans holding a majority of seats and the Democrats holding a minority, the current leaders are Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, and Minority Whip Katherine Clark of Massachusetts.

What is the role of party leaders in Congress? ›

Both party leaders, also called floor leaders, serve as the spokesperson for their party's positions on the issues and coordinate their respective legislative strategies.

How are party leaders in Congress selected quizlet? ›

- Speakers are formally elected by members of the House; but in practice, the key step is to be selected by a majority of the majority party when it caucuses to select leaders.

How is party leadership structured in Congress? ›

The floor leaders and whips of each party are elected by a majority vote of all the senators of their party assembled in a conference or, as it sometimes is called, a caucus. The practice has been to choose the leader for a two-year term at the beginning of each Congress.

How many parties are in Congress? ›

The Democratic and Republican parties are currently the primary parties in Congress.

How many Congress parties are there? ›

As per latest publication dated 23 September 2021 from Election Commission of India, the total number of parties registered was 2858, with 8 national parties, 54 state parties and 2796 unrecognised parties.

What is the President's role as party leader quizlet? ›

"Leader of the Political Party That Controls the Executive Branch" The president is the head of his political party. He helps to support those in his party (Republican or Democrat) who are running for office and also by appointing political party members to key positions.

What is the main purpose or role of political parties? ›

A political party is an organization that coordinates candidates to compete in a particular country's elections. It is common for the members of a party to hold similar ideas about politics, and parties may promote specific ideological or policy goals.

How does party leader get elected? ›

There is, however, no common procedure whereby the main parties choose their leader. A leadership election may be required at intervals set by party rules, or it may be held in response to a certain proportion of those eligible to vote expressing a lack of confidence in the current leadership.

Who are the current Republican members of Congress? ›

Republican Leadership
  • Republican Leadership.
  • Kevin McCarthy.
  • Steve Scalise.
  • Tom Emmer.
  • Elise M. Stefanik.
  • Gary J. Palmer.

Who is the leader of each House of Congress? ›

United States House of Representatives
Majority LeaderSteve Scalise (R) since January 3, 2023
Minority LeaderHakeem Jeffries (D) since January 3, 2023
Majority WhipTom Emmer (R) since January 3, 2023
Minority WhipKatherine Clark (D) since January 3, 2023
27 more rows

Which party controls the House in 2022? ›

Elected Speaker

The Republican Party, led by Kevin McCarthy, won control of the House, defeating Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party, which had held a majority in the House since 2019, as a result of the 2018 elections.

Who are the Republican senators and representatives? ›

Republican Senators
  • John Barrasso Wyoming.
  • Marsha Blackburn Tennessee.
  • John Boozman Arkansas.
  • Mike Braun Indiana.
  • Katie Britt Alabama.
  • Ted Budd North Carolina.
  • Shelley Moore Capito West Virginia.
  • Bill Cassidy Louisiana.


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