The Speaker of the House is the only House leadership position mentioned in the Constitution. Over time, as the United States grew and the membership of the U.S. House of Representatives increased, a need for additional leaders developed. In addition to the Speaker of the House, current House leadership includes the majority and minority leaders and party whips.
Speaker of the House
The Speaker acts as the leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Every two years, before the start of a new Congress, each party selects a candidate for the position during party caucuses and conferences. On the first day of the Congress, the Speaker is elected from those candidates by a majority vote of the Members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Typically, the nominee from the majority party wins the election.
The Speaker has many responsibilities within the House. The Speaker serves as the presiding officer during House sessions—administering the oath of office, giving Members permission to speak on the House floor, overseeing votes, and—when necessary—deciding if the rules of debate have been broken. The Speaker also serves as the administrative head of the House. These responsibilities include 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. On top of these day-to-day duties, the Speaker is also second in the line of succession to the presidency, after the Vice President.
In addition to the obligation 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.
The majority leader is second to the Speaker of the House in party hierarchy. 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’s role begins on the first day of the Congress.
The majority leader is responsible for keeping legislation moving and uniting the majority party. The majority leader schedules legislation for consideration on the House floor; plans daily, weekly, and annual legislative agendas; consults with Members to determine party member’s opinions on issues and legislation; 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 to serve a two year term. Nominees are selected during secret balloting of the party during its caucus or conference. The minority party nominee is also the 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, each for a two year term. 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 key products of both parties' whip organizations and are posted on each party's website.