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Congressional Leadership John Hernandez Politics & U.S. Documents Librarian February 8, 2007 Today’s Menu Background & discussion of contemporary Congressional leadership roles Brief who’s who for the 110 th Congress Information resources for learning more Political Parties & Congress

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Congressional Leadership

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Congressional leadership l.jpg

Congressional Leadership

John Hernandez

Politics & U.S. Documents Librarian

February 8, 2007


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Today’s Menu

  • Background & discussion of contemporary Congressional leadership roles

  • Brief who’s who for the 110th Congress

  • Information resources for learning more


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Political Parties & Congress

  • Parties have been vital to the work and organization of Congress since its inception

  • Parties serve to help select and elect candidates and to distribute power within Congress

  • Party with the most seats controls key positions

  • Parties increased in significance since the Civil War, with some decline in the 20th Century

  • Contest today is between Republican and Democratic parties as majority or minority


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Leadership in Congress

  • Defined by a mix of Constitutional mandate, established rules, and tradition

  • Largely a function of personal character

  • Provides structure through which parties exert influence in Congress

  • Demonstrates the dynamics of political partisanship in Congress

  • Provides checks and balances with the Executive

    • Support or opposition to President’s bills

    • Responses to State of the Union addresses


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Leadership Responsibilities

  • Promoting legislative agenda of the party

    • Monitoring and shepherding of party’s bills

    • Obstructing passage of opposition party’s bills

  • Making committee assignments

  • Supporting candidates in their home districts

  • Forging political coalitions

  • Issuing rewards and punishments


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Leadership Positions

  • Speaker of the House

  • President of the Senate

  • Majority/Minority Floor Leaders

  • Majority/Minority Whips

  • Republican/Democratic Conference Chairs

  • Standing committee chairs and ranking members

  • Congressional membership organization chairs


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Speaker of the House

  • Presiding officer (U.S. Const. art. 1, § 2, cl. 5)

    • Elected by members of House

    • Each party nominates a candidate, majority wins

  • Second in line of Presidential succession after the VP (Presidential Succession Act of 1947)

  • Has a lot of power

    • Controls the legislative calendar

    • Leads appointment process of committee chairs

  • Leader and national spokesperson of the majority party


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House Majority Leader

  • Second in command to Speaker

  • Responsible for day-to-day management of legislative affairs on the House floor

  • Responsible for building majority party consensus

  • Officially designated in 1899, usually a lieutenant appointed by Speaker until 1911

    • Sometimes was the chair of Ways & Means or Appropriations committees

  • Since 1911, elected by members of majority party


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House Minority Leader

  • Official role emerged in 1899

  • Elected by members of the minority party to serve as their spokesperson

  • Criticizes the program of the majority party

  • Seeks to block majority bills from passing


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President of the Senate

  • Vice-President is the President of the Senate (U.S. Const. art. 1, § 3)

  • Only votes in the case of a tie, has little power

  • Opens electoral ballots for Presidential elections

  • President Pro-Tempore (“President for a time”) presides when the VP is not present

    • Elected by resolution in the Senate

    • Usually the majority party member with the longest record of continuous service

    • Third in line of Presidential succession

    • Term of service solidified in 1890


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Senate Majority Leader

  • Role first established in 1925 (Republicans)

  • Elected by members of the majority party

  • Senior Senate official, has the right of priority recognition on the Senate floor

  • Primary spokesperson for majority party

  • Day-to-day manager of business on the Senate floor

  • Schedules the sequence and manner of debate on all legislation

  • Responsible for building and managing majority party consensus


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Senate Minority Leader

  • Established in 1920 (Democrats)

  • Elected by members of the minority party

  • Senior official for the minority party

  • Primary spokesperson for the minority

  • Responsible for setting the legislative agenda and strategy of the minority party


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Majority & Minority Whips

  • Term “whip” comes from British hunting lore: the whip keeps the foxhounds in line

  • Role first emerged in late 1890s in the House

  • Elected by party members

  • Assist the floor leaders to keep track of party members and lobby them for votes

  • Responsible for the details of mobilizing votes among party members

  • Serve as floor leaders in their absence


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Party Conference Chairs

  • Conference is the organizational vehicle for party members and their staff

  • Also referred to as Caucus (House Democrats)

  • Led by chair elected by members

  • In some cases the majority leader also serves as the conference chair


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Standing Committees

  • Committees are where the bulk of legislative work is done

  • Committees mark-up bills, hold hearings, conduct investigations, and perform oversight

  • Committees (and subcommittees) concentrate legislative expertise in various policy areas

  • Chairs of key committees are very powerful

    • Ways and Means

    • Appropriations


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Committee Assignments

  • House & Senate rules provide that they elect the members of committees at the beginning of each Congress (post 1970)

    • Representatives of the two parties agree on committee assignments and party ratios, then submit rosters for vote

  • Seniority is the normal basis for ranking among committee members

    • The longer a member is in the committee, the more likely to become chair or ranking minority member


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Congressional Member Organizations

  • Most commonly known as caucuses

    • Also called coalitions, study groups, task forces, and working groups

  • Special interest alliances that function as internal lobbies

  • Represent a wide variety of political interests

  • Emerged around 1930s, peaked in 1970s & 80s

  • Registered with the Committee on House Administration


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110th Congress Majority

  • Convened on January 4, 2007, Democrats have majority in both House and Senate

  • Key leadership positions:

    • Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi, CA)

    • House Majority Leader (Steny Hoyer, MD)

    • House Majority Whip (James Clyburn, SC)

    • House Democratic Caucus Chair (Rahm Emanuel, IL)

    • Senate President Pro Tem (Robert Byrd, WV)

    • Senate Majority Leader & Democratic Conference Chair (Harry Reid, NV)

    • Senate Majority Whip (Richard Durbin, IL)


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110th Congress Minority

  • Republicans have minority

  • Key leadership positions:

    • House Minority Leader (John Boehner, OH)

    • House Minority Whip (Roy Blunt, MO)

    • House Republican Conference Chair (Adam Putnam, FL)

    • Senate Minority Leader (Mitch McConnell, KY)

    • Senate Minority Whip (Trent Lott, MS)

    • Senate Republican Conference Chair (Jon Kyl, AZ)


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Useful Sources

  • Directories

    • Almanac of American Politics

    • Politics in America

    • Congressional Staff Directory (especially for caucuses)

    • U.S. Congressional Directory (official)

  • CQ publications (excellent for background)

    • Guide to Congress

    • How Congress Works

    • CQ Weekly Report


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More Useful Sources

  • Official publications

    • Congressional Record

    • House & Senate Journals

    • House & Senate Rules

  • Official Web sites (lots of useful links)

    • www.house.gov

    • www.senate.gov

  • Media & Press

    • Major newspapers (NYT, Washington Post, WSJ)

    • C-SPAN

    • National Journal Group Policy Central


  • Login