High School Home :: What Is Congress? > House Leadership
Although only the Speaker of the House is mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, over time, as the United States grew and its government changed, a need for additional House leaders developed. Current House leadership includes the Speaker of the House, majority and minority leaders, and majority and minority whips.
Speaker of the House
The Speaker of the House is elected from candidates nominated by each party on the first day of each new Congress. The candidates are selected during party caucuses and conferences before the start of the Congress. Typically, the nominee from the majority party wins the election.
The Speaker acts as the leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Speaker serves as the presiding officer during House sessions—administering the oath of office, recognizing Members on the House floor for the purpose of speaking or making motions, putting questions to vote, and deciding on points of order. The Speaker also serves as the administrative head of the House, including designating Members to serve as Speaker pro tempore, counting and declaring all votes, referring bills and motions to committees, appointing Members to select and conference committees, and signing all bills and resolutions that pass in the House. The Speaker is also second in the line of succession to the presidency, after the Vice President.
In addition to the added duties of serving as the head of the House, the Speaker continues to represent his or her district in Congress and retains the same rights as all Members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Traditionally, however, the Speaker does not serve on committees and infrequently votes on legislation or participates in floor debate.
Although not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the first majority leader was seen during the 56th Congress (1899–1901). Elected every two years in secret balloting during the party caucus or conference, the majority leader is second to the Speaker of the House in party hierarchy.
The majority leader is responsible for expediting legislative business and keeping the majority party united. The majority leader schedules legislation for consideration on the House floor; plans daily, weekly, and annual legislative agendas; consults with Members to gauge party sentiment on issues; and works to advance the goals of the majority party.
Like the Speaker of the House, the majority leader remains his or her district’s Representative in Congress. Also, like the Speaker, the majority leader does not serve on committees. Although participation in floor debate is allowed, the majority leader, traditionally, does not lead floor debate on major issues.
Like the majority leader, the minority leader is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. The position was added during the 56th Congress (1899–1901). The minority leader, like the majority leader, is elected during secret balloting of the party during its caucus or conference and is the minority party’s nominee for Speaker of the House.
The minority leader serves as the floor leader to the “loyal opposition” and is the minority counterpart to the Speaker of the House. The minority leader speaks for the minority party and its policies, works to protect the minority’s rights, and nominates or appoints minority party Members to serve on certain standing committees. Like other House leaders, the minority leader continues to serve as the Representative for his or her district, but, by tradition, does not lead floor debate on major issues.
Party whips, like other House leaders, are elected during party caucuses or conferences before the start of a new Congress. Each party selects at least one chief deputy whip and a number of deputy and other whips. Whips are responsible for assisting the party leadership in managing the party’s legislative program on the House floor, maintaining communication between the leadership of the party and its members, counting votes on key legislation, and persuading Members to vote for the party position. Whip notices and advisories to all party members about the legislative agenda are staple products of both parties’ whip organizations and are posted on each party’s website.