Party Leadership in Congress
Party leadership is a vastly important concept in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The party leaders are in charge of the scheduling and are the faces of the party. The party leadership consists of the president pro tempore, the leader, the whip, the Conference Chair, the Policy Committee Chair, and the Conference Secretary for the Senate. The House has the Speaker, the Leader, the Whip, the Conference or Caucus Chairman and the Policy Chairman. Also the Democrats added an assistant leader. Currently, the Republicans control the House and the Democrats control the Senate. These leaders have many responsibilities to uphold. They are a very intricate part of how the senate works today and it is almost inconceivable to look at the Congress without them but the first congress to have party leaders was the 56th Congress for the House of Representatives and the 66th for the Senate. Thus, they did not formally exist until the turn of the 20th Century. (senate.gov)
The party leaders are first elected by the party’s Committee or Caucus. In the case of the Speaker, the House of Representatives votes between the majority and minority candidate for Speaker. A partisan vote ensues in which the majority party’s candidate becomes Speaker. The majority party’s candidate could lose but the vote is always partisan so it is highly unlikely. The Caucus or Committee also votes on the Majority and Minority Leaders, Whips and Chairmen. The Committee or Caucus then puts those members into the party leadership. In the last election, representative Heath Shuler challenged Nancy Pelosi for the Minority Leadership position and lost.Pelosi decided to run after watching her party lose the majority under her leadership as Speaker. Losing the majority has caused many Speakers to resign from their party’s leadership, though this has not been the only reason that Speakers and Speaker candidates have resigned from their positions in the past. (house.gov)
Before 1899, in the House of Representatives, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee was the floor leader for the majority party. Usually the majority leader goes on to become the Speaker of the House or at least the minority leader when their predecessor steps down or loses a bid at reelection. The only situations in which this was not the case was in the instances of Hale Boggs, who died in a plane crash, and Dick Armey who decided not to run for Speaker of the House. In 1998, Dennis Hastert became the Speaker. He was a compromise candidate for Speaker after the fallout from the Bob Livingston Scandal. Bob Livingston, a potential Speaker candidate, resigned because of the revealing of his sultry past after he spoke out harshly against Bill Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky ScandalThe Speaker of the House is the most powerful in command for the party in power followed closely by the House Majority Leader. The current Majority Leader is Eric Cantor and he represents the Majority Party on the floor. His responsibilities include helping to plan the agenda, advancing the goals of the Majority Party, and monitoring floor activities. The Minority Party in the House of Representatives is the Democrats. The Minority Leader is Nancy Pelosi. She represents the Minority Party on the floor. The Minority Leader is responsible for protecting the rights of the minority and attempting to maximize the influence of the Minority Party on legislation. The Minority Leader is also responsible for developing policy alternatives and serving as the spokesperson for the party. The Minority Leader serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence along with the Speaker. Though the Majority Leader holds more power in rank than the Minority Leader it is not impossible for the underdog to get the upper hand. (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/108th/bio_hastert.html) (senate.gov)
In the Senate leadership roles were always assumed position of strong leading members of the Senate; however, in the 66th Congress the Democrats selected the first Minority Leader. The Republicans followed suit in the 68th Congress when Charles Curtis became the first Majority Leader of the Senate. In the Senate, the Minority Party Leader is in charge of controlling the agenda as the Majority Leader is given priority on the floor. The Minority Leader is responsible for protecting the rights of his or her party as the minority party. The Minority Leader is in line to become Majority Leader if his party comes to power in the SenateThe current Majority Leader is Harry Reid and the Minority Leader is Mitch O’Connell, which puts the Senate in the control of the Democrats. (senate.gov)
There are many other important actors in the leadership of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. These actors have various responsibilities as well. In the House of Representatives the Speaker of the House is the most obvious member. The Speaker of the House is second in line to succeed the president and is elected by the whole House of Representatives in a usually partisan vote. The Speaker presides over the House of Representatives and is the leader of the Majority Party. Most Speakers rarely vote and vote only on issues that are close or issues that affect their districts. The duties of the Speaker take up most of their time. The current speaker is Rep. John Boehner. He succeeded Rep. Nancy Pelosi as Speaker for the 112th Congress. (house.gov)
The House Whips are another important entity in the party leadership. The majority whip is responsible for making sure that members vote a particular way or making sure that a piece of legislation that is important to the party has the necessary votes to pass the House of Representatives. It is the Whip’s duty to maintain communication between the leadership of the party and its members. Whips also report Whip notices and advisories based on the agenda to advise members as to when votes will occur. Whips are responsible for the deputy and assistant Whips, who provide diversity. The Minority Whip does the same thing for the Minority Party. The House of Representatives Whips for the 112th Congress are Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.