Floor Leaders (CongressionalGlossary.com)

From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms

Floor Leaders

In the House, the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader represent their parties on the House floor. They are assisted by whips. The House, with its large membership, has chosen majority and minority leaders since the 19th century to expedite legislative business and to keep their parties united. These leaders are elected every two years in secret balloting of the party caucus or conference.

The role of the majority leader in the House has been defined by history and tradition. This officer is charged with scheduling legislation for floor consideration; planning the daily, weekly, and annual legislative agendas; consulting with members to gauge party sentiment; and, in general, working to advance the goals of the majority party.

The minority leader serves as floor leader of the “loyal opposition,” and is the minority counterpart to the Speaker. Although many of the basic leadership responsibilities of the minority and majority leaders are similar, the minority leader speaks for the minority party in the House and its policies and works to protect the minority party’s rights.

In the Senate, The Majority Leader and Minority Leader are elected by their respective party conferences to serve as the chief spokesmen for their parties and to manage and schedule the legislative and executive business of the Senate. By custom, the presiding officer in the Senate gives the floor leaders priority in obtaining recognition to speak on the floor of the Senate. It was not until the latter part of the 19th century that the senators of each political party organized and assembled separately as a unit for the purpose of electing certain members from among their own party to represent each, respectively, as agents in helping to run the legislative machine. According to the best available records, it was not until the 20th century that the posts of majority and minority leaders became official political positions.

The floor leaders of each party today are elected by a majority vote of all the senators of the 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. After the parties have held their elections, the selection is made known through the press or by announcement to the Senate. The majority and minority leaders are the elected spokesmen on the Senate floor for their respective political parties, having been elected by their fellow senators of the same party to whom they are responsible.

The relations between floor leaders and their respective party memberships revolve around an exchange basis. The members of the political party having consolidated their strength elect a leader and place this power at his disposal for operation of the legislative process to carry out the party’s program. The members of the party, in return for their support, can expect the leader’s assistance in meeting their individual political needs insofar as practicable. The relationship is one of compromise and mutual forbearance in order to function as a body – a common characteristic of all popularly elected legislative institutions. The leaders are in a position to help any senator of their party in most cases where the senator would be unable to help himself acting alone. Individual senators often consult the leadership about the following matters: when to participate in debate, committee assignments to be sought, particular appointments desired, the passage of particular pieces of legislation, the confirmation of particular nominations and desired administrative action by the executive branch, particularly when the President and the majority in control of Congress are of the same political party. In particular, the appointment powers of the two party leaders gives them some leverage in working with the members of their respective parties.

The position of the floor leader is not that of an army general over a multitude of soldiers. Unlike army officers, the floor leaders must maintain continued support. They are subject to periodic re-election by the senators in their party.

Also see Congressional Leadership and Committees; Majority Leader; § 5.50 Party Leadership, § 5.60 House Leadership, and § 5.70 Senate Leadership, in Congressional Deskbook.

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