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Congressional Leadership

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  1. Congressional Leadership John Hernandez Politics & U.S. Documents Librarian February 8, 2007

  2. Today’s Menu • Background & discussion of contemporary Congressional leadership roles • Brief who’s who for the 110th Congress • Information resources for learning more

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. 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

  11. 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

  12. 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

  13. 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

  14. 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

  15. 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

  16. 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

  17. 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

  18. 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)

  19. 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)

  20. 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

  21. More Useful Sources • Official publications • Congressional Record • House & Senate Journals • House & Senate Rules • Official Web sites (lots of useful links) • • • Media & Press • Major newspapers (NYT, Washington Post, WSJ) • C-SPAN • National Journal Group Policy Central