POL 411 Video Paper
Leadership of the House of Representatives
The leadership of the US House of Representatives is composed of the Speaker of the House, the majority and minority
leaders, the majority and minority whips, and the chairs of the Democratic and Republican party caucuses. While there is only one
Speaker, the other leadership positions, the last two excepted, have parallels in both parties. The purpose of this essay is to explain
what their roles in the House's operations are, and indicate who holds these positions of power. There are other leadership positions
besides the ones covered here, but the scope of this essay will be limited to these.
I'll start by talking about the Speaker of the House. This post, the only one constitutionally mandated for the House, is
currently held by John Boehner, a Republican from the 8th district of Ohio. The Speaker is elected by the full House on the first day
of the new session of Congress, and since it is a partisan vote, the Speaker ends up being from the majority party. Interestingly, the
Constitution does not actually require the Speaker to be a member of the House, but there has never been a non-member elected to
the post. The Speaker has several main roles. The Speaker's primary role is to function as the presiding officer in the House, which
means they have the power to moderate and control debate in the House. As the presiding officer, the Speaker also swears in the
representatives-elect, which you can see in this excerpt from the proceedings on Jan 5, 2011, the first day of the 112th Congress.
They also rule on points of order, if any are raised, and set the schedule for bills to be debated in the House. As well, they
are the leader of their political party in the House, and have significant powers outside of the duties of presiding. For example, the
Speaker is responsible for the selection of nine members to serve on the House's Rules Committee (subject to the approval of the
party caucus, of course). The minority party chooses the remaining seats, but the fact that over two thirds of the seats on this
extremely powerful committee are chosen by the Speaker means that he wields a lot of power in this area. Besides selecting these
members, the Speaker is also the chair of their party's steering committee, which decides who gets committee appointments for other
committees. The Speaker also oversees the administrative functions of the House, such as appointing clerks and the Sergeant-at-
Arms. The Speaker is second in the line of presidential succession, behind the Vice President, as well. On top of all of these duties,
they also continue to represent their home district as a member of the House.
Moving downward in the leadership hierarchy from the Speaker, you next have the majority and minority leaders. These
leaders are not mandated by the Constitution, and as opposed to being chosen by the full House, are chosen in closed elections by
their party caucuses. The current majority leader is Eric Cantor, a Republican from the 7th District of Virginia, while the current minority leader
is Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California's 8th district. She was formerly the Speaker before the 2010 midterm elections, and
after that loss, moved down one step to become the minority leader. The duties of these leaders, particularly the role of the majority
leader, are more fluid than those of the Speaker, because they are not assigned duties in the Constitution. Because the Speaker
manages the administration of the House as well as functioning as party leader, the majority leader's role is to assist the Speaker in
the management of the party's operations, to help set the legislative agenda, and to work to implement their party's agenda. You can
see an example of the majority leader's duties in the following clip, where he is called upon to inform the House of the schedule for the
coming week. The clip is from October 6th of this year, and was regarding the following week.
The minority leader, on the other hand, is the leader of their party in the House, and as such is generally the spokesperson for that party in
the House. The minority leader's main job is to function as the leader of the opposition, and seeks to protect the minority party's
rights and to make sure that their voice is heard in policy-making. The minority leader is the other candidate on the ballot for the
Speaker of the House, as well. This can be seen in the clip we viewed in class earlier in the semester, where the candidates for the
Speakership were John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi. The minority leader is also the chair of their party's steering committee.
The majority leader is considered the #2 member of their party, being outranked by the Speaker. The minority leader,
however, is the first ranked member in their party's leadership. Usually, when the minority party wins a majority in the House, the
minority leader would move up to become the Speaker. This is what happened in the case of the current Speaker, John Boehner,
who was formerly the minority leader. However, when the majority loses their majority in an election, they suddenly find themselves
with one less leadership position, and there can be a battle for position for the next Congress. While Nancy Pelosi managed to
remain in leadership, the Democrats averted this possibility by creating the new position of Assistant Democratic Leader, which
became the new number 3 leadership position. If they had not, there would have been a contest between James Clyburn and Steny
Hoyer for the minority whip position in the current Congress.
The majority and minority whips are officials who are responsible for functioning as liaisons between party leadership and
the rank and file representatives. Unlike the other positions discussed so far, these positions are essentially identical and perform
similar functions. They are slightly different in the leadership hierarchy, though. In the minority party, the whip is the second ranking
member of the party, behind the minority leader. In the majority party, because of the addition of the Speaker, the whip is third
ranked in party leadership. The term "whip" is derived from old English fox hunting practices, where "whippers-in" had the task of
keeping the fox hounds together. The current majority whip is Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California's 22nd district, and the
current minority whip is Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland's 5th district. Each party also appoints chief deputy whips, who
function as assistants to the whips. Peter Roskam serves this role for the Republicans, while John Lewis performs it for the
Democrats. It is important to note, however, that the deputy whips are not part of the main leadership hierarchy, and are subordinate
to the whips.
The other main roles of the whip include managing voting on legislation, gauging support for bills, and ensuring that
members of their party are in attendance for voting on important bills. They essentially function as the attendance officer to make sure
their party's members show up when they're needed. The whip works with both party leadership and the rank and file to advance
their party's agenda by marshalling support among the rank and file for party positions, which can include meeting with
representatives to persuade them to vote one way or the other, or possibly offering other incentives to gain their vote. The whips
from both parties also put out itineraries, called whip notices, which detail the schedule and legislation to be acted upon for a
particular day or week. You can see an example of a whip notice at this link: http://www.democraticwhip.gov/content/daily-whip-thursday-november-17-2011.
Unfortunately, the Republican whip's website does not have a similar example, but you can find an example of a floor schedule similar
to what the whip would put out on the majority leader's website here: http://majorityleader.gov/Floor/. Generally speaking, the whips
do their work outside of the main sessions of the House, such as meeting with representatives or composing the whip notices for the
coming day or week. Their job can be summed up as preparation, as they work to ensure that leadership has the votes necessary to
pursue an agenda before committing, making sure that members show up to make the necessary votes, and keeping members
informed regarding legislation to be considered.
Moving on from the whips, we next have the chairmen of each party's caucus. The party caucuses are congressional
caucuses comprised of all members from that party. In the House, we have the House Democratic Caucus and the House
Republican Conference. They are chaired by John Larson, a Democrat from Connecticut's 1st district, and Jeb Hensarling, a
Republican from the 5th district of Texas, respectively. Both of these chairmen are ranked fourth in their respective leadership
hierarchies. These caucuses, and their chairmen by extension, are important because they house their respective parties' steering
committees, as well as serving as facilities for the development of policy. On top of this, each party's caucus holds a meeting before
the beginning of the new Congress, where it elects the party's leadership for the coming session. You can see the party chairmen
being recognized by the Speaker, and then presenting their party's leadership to the House in this clip, which is also from the first day of the current
session of Congress.
The party caucuses are the primary mechanism by which information and communications are distributed to
representatives. They also host meetings which function as forums for the development of policy. The chairman's responsibilities
mainly consist of the administration of the caucus and it's communications.
Having this many leaders may give the impression that the House is leadership-heavy, but when you have a group of 435
legislators who are responsible for law-making, it is critical to have strong leadership at the top to make sure that the goals and
agenda of their respective parties are being advanced, and to build consensus to make the business of legislating possible.