The Role of the House Minority Leader: An Overview
The Role of the House Minority Leader:
Updated December 12, 2006
Walter J. Oleszek
Senior Specialist in the Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division
House Minority Leader
The House minority leader is head of the “loyal opposition.” The party’s
nominee for Speaker, the minority leader is elected every two years by secret ballot
of his or her party caucus or conference. The minority leader’s responsibilities
involve an array of duties. Fundamentally, the primary goal of the minority leader
is to recapture majority control of the House. In addition, the minority leader
performs important institutional and party functions.
From an institutional perspective, the rules of the House assign a number of
specific responsibilities to the minority leader. For example, Rule XII, clause 6,
grant the minority leader (or his designee) the right to offer a motion to recommit
with instructions; Rule II, clause 6, states the Inspector General shall be appointed
by joint recommendation of the Speaker, majority leader, and minority leader; and
Rule XV, clause 6, provides that the Speaker, after consultation with the minority
leader, may place legislation on the Corrections Calendar. The minority leader also
has other institutional duties, such as appointing individuals to certain federal
From a party perspective, the minority leader has a wide range of partisan
assignments, all geared toward retaking majority control of the House. Five principal
party activities direct the work of the minority leader. First, he or she provides
campaign assistance to party incumbents and challengers. Second, the minority
leader devises strategies, in consultation with other partisan colleagues, that advance
party objectives. For example, by stalling action on the majority party’s agenda, the
minority leader may be able to launch a campaign against a “do-nothing Congress.”
Third, the minority leader works to promote and publicize the party’s agenda.
Fourth, the minority leader, if his or her party controls the White House, confers
regularly with the President and his aides about issues before Congress, the
Administration’s agenda, and political events generally. Fifth, the minority leader
strives to promote party harmony so as to maximize the chances for legislative and
In troduction ......................................................1
Origin of the Minority Leader’s Post ..................................2
Questions of Privilege......................................5
Committee on Standards of Official Conduct: Investigative
Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence....................5
Motion to Recommit with Instructions.........................6
Provide Campaign Assistance................................7
Devise Minority Party Strategies..............................7
Promote and Publicize the Party’s Agenda......................8
Confer With the White House................................9
Foster Party Harmony.....................................10
Appendix. House Minority Leaders, 1899-2006.........................12
The Role of the House Minority Leader:
The minority leader of the modern House is the head of the “loyal opposition.”
The party’s nominee for Speaker at the start of a new Congress, the minority leader
traditionally hands the gavel to the Speaker-elect, who is nearly always elected on a
straight party-line vote. The speakership election spotlights the main problem that
confronts the minority leader: the subordinate status of his or her party in an
institution noted for majority rule. The House, said a Democratic leader at a time
when his party was in the majority, “operates under the principle that a determined
majority should be allowed to work its will while protecting the rights of the minority1
to be heard.” Minority party lawmakers are certain to be heard, but whether they
will be heeded is sometimes another matter. Thus, the uppermost goal of any
minority leader is to recapture majority control of the House.
The minority leader is elected every two years by secret ballot of his or her party
caucus or conference. These party leaders are typically experienced lawmakers when
they win election to this position. When Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, became minority
leader in the 108th Congress, she had served in the House nearly 20 years and hadth
served as minority whip in the 107 Congress. When her predecessor, Richard
Gephardt, D-MO, became minority leader in the 104th House, he had been in the
House for almost 20 years, had served as chairman of the Democratic Caucus for four
years, had been a 1988 presidential candidate, and had been majority leader from
June 1989 until Republicans captured control of the House in the November 1994
elections. Gephardt’s predecessor in the minority leadership position was Robert
Michel, R-IL, who became GOP leader in 1981 after spending 24 years in the House.
Michel’s predecessor, Republican John Rhodes of Arizona, was elected minority
leader in 1973 after 20 years of House service. Representative Gephardt served as
minority leader through the 107th Congress.
The roles and responsibilities of the minority leader are not well-defined. To
a large extent, the functions of the minority leader are defined by tradition and
custom. A minority leader from 1931 to 1939, Representative Bertrand Snell, R-
N.Y., provided this “job description”: “He is spokesman for his party and enunciates
its policies. He is required to be alert and vigilant in defense of the minority’s rights.
It is his function and duty to criticize constructively the policies and programs of the
1 Congressional Record, Sept. 16, 1982, p. H7097.
majority, and to this end employ parliamentary tactics and give close attention to all
Since Snell’s description, other responsibilities have been added to the job.
These duties involve an array of institutional and party functions. Before examining
the institutional and party assignments of the minority leader, it is worth highlighting
the historical origin of this position.
Origin of the Minority Leader’s Post
To a large extent, the minority leader’s position is a 20th century innovation.
Prior to this time congressional parties were often relatively disorganized, so it was
not always evident who functioned as the opposition floor leader. Decades went by
before anything like our modern two-party congressional system emerged on Capitol
Hill with official titles for those who were its official leaders. However, from the
beginning days of Congress, various House members intermittently assumed the role
of “opposition leader.” Some scholars suggest that Representative James Madison
of Virginia informally functioned as the first “minority leader” because in the First
Congress he led the opposition to Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s fiscal
During this early period, it was more usual that neither major party grouping
(Federalists and Republicans) had an official leader. In 1813, for instance, a scholar
recounts that the Federalist minority of 36 Members needed a committee of 13 “to
represent a party comprising a distinct minority” and “to coordinate the actions of
men who were already partisans in the same cause.”4 In 1828, a foreign observer of
the House offered this perspective on the absence of formal party leadership on
I found there were absolutely no persons holding the stations of what are called,
in England, Leaders, on either side of the House.... It is true, that certain
members do take charge of administration questions, and certain others of
opposition questions; but all this so obviously without concert among
themselves, actual or tacit, that nothing can be conceived less systematic or more5
completely desultory, disjointed.
Internal party disunity compounded the difficulty of identifying lawmakers who
might have informally functioned as a minority leader. For instance, “seven of the
fourteen speakership elections from 1834 through 1859 had at least twenty different
2 Quoted in Floyd M. Riddick, Congressional Procedure (Boston: Chapman and Grimes,
3 See Garrison Nelson, “Leadership Position-Holding in the United States House of
Representatives,” Capitol Studies, Fall 1976, p. 17.
4 James Sterling Young, The Washington Community, 1800-1828 (New York: Harcourt
Brace, 1966), pp. 135-136.
5 Ibid., p. 137.
candidates in the field. Thirty-six competed in 1839, ninety-seven in 1849, ninety-
one in 1859, and 138 in 1855.”6 With so many candidates competing for the
speakership, it is not at all clear that one of the defeated lawmakers then assumed the
mantle of “minority leader.” The Democratic minority from 1861 to 1875 was so
completely disorganized that they did not “nominate a candidate for Speaker in two
of these seven Congresses and nominated no man more than once in the other five.
The defeated candidates were not automatically looked to for leadership.”7
In the judgment of a political scientist, since 1883 “the candidate for Speaker
nominated by the minority party has clearly been the Minority Leader.”8 However,
this assertion is subject to dispute. On December 3, 1883, the House elected
Democrat John G. Carlisle of Kentucky as Speaker. Republicans placed in
nomination for the speakership J. Warren Keifer of Ohio, who was Speaker the
previous Congress.9 Clearly, Keifer was not the Republicans’ minority leader. He
was a discredited leader in part because as Speaker he arbitrarily handed out “choice
jobs to close relatives ... all at handsome salaries.”10 Keifer received “the empty
honor of the minority nomination. But with it came a sting — for while this naturally
involves the floor leadership, he was deserted by his [partisan] associates and his
career as a national figure terminated ingloriously.”11 Representative Thomas Reed,
R-ME, who later became Speaker, assumed the de facto role of minority floor leader
in Keifer’s stead. “[A]lthough Keifer was the minority’s candidate for Speaker, Reed
became its acknowledged leader, and ever after, so long as he served in the House,
remained the most conspicuous member of his party.”12
Another scholar contends that the minority leader position emerged even before
1883. On the Democratic side, “there were serious caucus fights for the minority
speakership nomination in 1871 and 1873,” indicating that the “nomination carried
with it some vestige of leadership.”13 Further, when Republicans were in the
minority, the party nominated for Speaker a series of prominent lawmakers, including
ex-Speaker James Blaine of Maine in 1875, former Appropriations Chairman James
Garfield of Ohio, in 1876, 1877, and 1879, and ex-Speaker Keifer in 1883. “It is
hard to believe that House partisans would place a man in the speakership when in
6 Nelson, “Leadership Position-Holding in the United States House of Representatives,” p.
7 Randall B. Ripley, Party Leaders in the House of Representatives, (Washington, D.C.: The
Brookings Institution, 1967), p. 28n.
8 Ibid., p. 28.
9 Congressional Record, Dec. 3, 1883, pp. 4-5.
10 Neil McNeil, Forge of Democracy: The House of Representatives (New York: David
McKay Co., 1963), p. 70.
11 Herbert Bruce Fuller, The Speakers of the House (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1909),
12 DeAlva Stanwood Alexander, History and Procedure of the House of Representatives
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1916), p. 131.
13 Nelson, “Leadership Position-Holding in the United States House of Representatives,” p.
the majority, and nominate him for this office when in the minority, and not look to
him for legislative guidance.”14 This was not the case, according to some observers,
with respect to ex-Speaker Keifer.
In brief, there is disagreement among historical analysts as to the exact time
period when the minority leadership emerged officially as a party position.
Nonetheless, it seems safe to conclude that the position emerged during the latter part
of the 19th century, a period of strong party organization and professional politicians.
This era was “marked by strong partisan attachments, resilient patronage-based party
organizations, and...high levels of party voting in Congress.”15 Plainly, these were
conditions conducive to the establishment of a more highly differentiated House
leadership structure.16 (See Appendix for a listing of House minority leaders, 1899-
Two other points of historical interest merit brief mention. First, until the 61st
Congress (1909-1910), “it was the custom to have the minority leader also serve as
the ranking minority member on the two most powerful committees, Rules and Ways
and Means.”17 Today, the minority leader no longer serves on these committees;
however, he or she appoints the minority members of the Rules Committee and
influences the assignment of partisan colleagues to the Ways and Means Committee.
Second, Democrats have always elevated their minority floor leader to the
speakership upon reclaiming majority status. Republicans have not always followed
this leadership succession pattern. In 1919, for instance, Republicans bypassed
James R. Mann, R-IL, who had been minority leader for eight years, and elected
Frederick Gillett, R-MA, to be Speaker. Mann “had angered many Republicans by
objecting to their private bills on the floor;” plus, he was a protégé of autocratic
Speaker Joseph Cannon, R-IL (1903-1911), and many Members “suspected that he
would try to recentralize power in his hands if elected Speaker.”18
The style and role of any minority leader is influenced by a variety of elements,
including personality and contextual factors, such as the size and cohesion of the
minority party, whether his or her party controls the White House, the general
political climate in the House, and the controversy that is sometimes associated with
the legislative agenda. Despite the variability of these factors, there are a number of
institutional obligations associated with this position. Many of these assignments or
15 Randall Strahan, “Thomas Brackett Reed and the Rise of Party Government,” in Roger
Davidson, et.al., eds., Masters of the House (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1998), p. 36.
16 See Nelson Polsby, “The Institutionalization of the U.S. House of Representatives,”
American Political Science Review, Sept. 1968, pp. 144-168.
17 Charles O. Jones, The Minority Party in Congress (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1970),
18 Ripley, Party Leaders in the House of Representatives, pp. 98-99.
roles are spelled out in the House rule book. Others have devolved upon the position
in other ways. To be sure, the minority leader is provided with extra staff resources
— beyond those accorded him or her as a Representative — to assist in carrying out
diverse leadership functions. Worth emphasis is that there are limits on the
institutional role of the minority leader, because the majority party exercises
disproportionate influence over the agenda, partisan ratios on committees, staff
resources, administrative operations, and the day-to-day schedule and management
of floor activities.
Under the rules of the House, the minority leader has certain roles and
responsibilities. They include the following:
Drug Testing. Under Rule I, clause 9, the “Speaker, in consultation with the
Minority Leader, shall develop through an appropriate entity of the House a system
for drug testing in the House.”
Inspector General. Rule II, clause 6, states that the “Inspector General shall
be appointed for a Congress by the Speaker, the Majority Leader, and the Minority
Leader, acting jointly.” This rule further states that the minority leader and other
specified House leaders shall be notified of any financial irregularity involving the
House and receive audit reports of the inspector general.
Questions of Privilege. Under Rule IX, clause 2, a resolution “offered as
a question of privilege by the Majority Leader or the Minority Leader ... shall have
precedence of all other questions except motions to adjourn.” This rule further
references the minority leader with respect to the division of time for debate of these
Oversight Plans. Under Rule X, clause 2, not later “than March 31 in the
first session of a Congress, after consultation with the Speaker, the Majority Leader,
and the Minority Leader, the Committee on Government Reform shall report to the
House the oversight plans” of the standing committees along with any
recommendations it or the House leaders have proposed to ensure the effective
coordination of committees’ oversight plans.
Committee on Standards of Official Conduct: Investigative
Subcommittees. Rule X, clause 5, stipulates: “At the beginning of a Congress,
the Speaker or his designee and the Minority Leader or his designee each shall
appoint 10 Members, Delegates, or Resident Commissioners from his respective
party who are not members of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to be
available to serve on investigative subcommittees of that committee during that
Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “The Speaker and
Minority Leader shall be ex officio members of the select committee but shall have
no vote in the select committee and may not be counted for purposes of determining
a quorum.” In addition, each leader may designate a member of his leadership staff
to assist him with his ex officio duties. (Rule X, clause 11).
Motion to Recommit with Instructions. Under Rule XIII, clause 6, the
Rules Committee may not (except in certain specified circumstances) issue a “rule”
that prevents the minority leader or a designee from offering a motion to recommit
In addition, the minority leader has a number of other institutional functions.
For instance, the minority leader is sometimes statutorily authorized to appoint
individuals to certain federal entities; he or she and the majority leader each name
three Members to serve as Private Calendar objectors; he or she is consulted with
respect to reconvening the House per the usual formulation of conditional concurrent
adjournment resolutions; he or she is a traditional member of the House Office
Building Commission; he or she is a member of the United States Capitol
Preservation Commission; and he or she may, after consultation with the Speaker,
convene an early organizational party caucus or conference. Informally, the minority
leader maintains ties with majority party leaders to learn about the schedule and other
House matters and forges agreements or understandings with them insofar as
The minority leader has a number of formal and informal party responsibilities.
Formally, the rules of each party specify certain roles and responsibilities for their
leader. For example, under Democratic rules for the 106th Congress, the minority
leader may call meetings of the Democratic Caucus. He or she is a member of the
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; names the members of the
Democratic Leadership Council; chairs the Policy Committee; and heads the
Steering Committee. Examples of other assignments are making “recommendations
to the Speaker on all Democratic Members who shall serve as conferees” and
nominating party members to the Committees on Rules and House Administration.
Republican rules identify generally comparable functions for their top party leader.
Informally, the minority leader has a wide range of party assignments. Lewis
Deschler, the late House Parliamentarian (1928-1974), summarized the diverse duties
of a party’s floor leader:
A party’s floor leader, in conjunction with other party leaders, plays an
influential role in the formulation of party policy and programs. He is
instrumental in guiding legislation favored by his party through the House, or in
resisting those programs of the other party that are considered undesirable by his
own party. He is instrumental in devising and implementing his party’s strategy
on the floor with respect to promoting or opposing legislation. He is kept
constantly informed as to the status of legislative business and as to the sentiment
of his party respecting particular legislation under consideration. Such
information is derived in part from the floor leader’s contacts with his party’s
members serving on House committees, and with the members of the party’s19
19 Lewis Deschler, Deschler’s Precedents of the United States House of Representatives,
These and several other party roles merit further mention because they influence
significantly the leader’s overarching objective: retake majority control of the House.
“I want to get [my] members elected and win more seats,” said Minority Leader
Richard Gephardt, D-MO. “That’s what [my partisan colleagues] want to do, and
that’s what they want me to do.”20 Five activities illustrate how minority leaders
seek to accomplish this primary goal.
Provide Campaign Assistance. Minority leaders are typically energetic and
aggressive campaigners for partisan incumbents and challengers. There is hardly any
major aspect of campaigning that does not engage their attention. For example, they
assist in recruiting qualified candidates; they establish “leadership PACs” to raise and
distribute funds to House candidates of their party; they try to persuade partisan
colleagues not to retire or run for other offices so as to hold down the number of open
seats the party would need to defend; they coordinate their campaign activities with
congressional and national party campaign committees; they encourage outside
groups to back their candidates; they travel around the country to speak on behalf of
party candidates; and they encourage incumbent colleagues to make significant
financial contributions to the party’s campaign committee. “The amount of time that
[Minority Leader] Gephardt is putting in to help the DCCC [Democratic
Congressional Campaign Committee] is unheard of,” noted a Democratic lobbyist.21
“No DCCC chairman has ever had that kind of support.”
Devise Minority Party Strategies. The minority leader, in consultation
with other party colleagues, has a range of strategic options that he or she can employ
to advance minority party objectives. The options selected depend on a wide range
of circumstances, such as the visibility or significance of the issue and the degree of
cohesion within the majority party. For instance, a majority party riven by internal
dissension, as occurred during the early 1900s when Progressive and “regular”
Republicans were at loggerheads, may provide the minority leader with greater
opportunities to achieve his or her priorities than if the majority party exhibited high
degrees of party cohesion. Among the variable strategies available to the minority
party, which can vary from bill to bill and be used in combination or at different
stages of the lawmaking process, are the following:
Cooperation. The minority party supports and cooperates with the majority
party in building winning coalitions on the floor.
Inconsequential Opposition. The minority party offers opposition, but it is of
marginal significance, typically because the minority is so small.
Vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1977), pp. 211-212.
20 Guy Gugliotta, “For Minority Leader, A Matter of Consensus; Inquiry Vote Tests
Gephardt’s Skills,” The Washington Post, Oct. 8, 1998, p. A18.
21 James A. Barnes and Peter H. Stone, “A Rich Harvest on the Hill,” National Journal, Feb.
Withdrawal. The minority party chooses not to take a position on an issue,
perhaps because of intraparty divisions.
Innovation. The minority party develops alternatives and agendas of its own
and attempts to construct winning coalitions on their behalf.
Partisan Opposition. The minority party offers strong opposition to majority
party initiatives, but does not counter with policy alternatives of their own.
Constructive Opposition. The minority party opposes initiatives of the majority
party, and offers its own proposals as substitutes.
Participation. The minority party is in the position of having to consider the
views and proposals of their president and to assess their majority-building role with
respect to his priorities.22
A look at one minority leadership strategy — partisan opposition — may
suggest why it might be employed in specific circumstances. The purposes of
obstruction are several, such as frustrating the majority party’s ability to govern or
attracting press and media attention to the alleged ineffectiveness of the majority
party. “We know how to delay,” remarked Minority Leader Gephardt.23 Dilatory
motions to adjourn, appeals of the presiding officer’s ruling, or numerous requests
for roll call votes are standard time-consuming parliamentary tactics. By stalling
action on the majority party’s agenda, the minority leader may be able to launch a
campaign against a “do-nothing Congress” and convince enough voters to put his
party back in charge of the House. To be sure, the minority leader recognizes that
“going negative” carries risks and may not be a winning strategy if his party fails to
offer policy alternatives that appeal to broad segments of the general public.
Promote and Publicize the Party’s Agenda. An important aim of the
minority leader is to develop an electorally attractive agenda of ideas and proposals
that unites his or her own House members and that energizes and appeals to core
electoral supporters as well as independents and swing voters. Despite the minority
leader’s restricted ability to set the House’s agenda, there are still opportunities for
him to raise minority priorities. For example, the minority leader may employ, or
threaten to use, discharge petitions to try and bring minority priorities to the floor.24
If he or she is able to attract the required 218 signatures on a discharge petition by
attracting majority party supporters, he or she can force minority initiatives to the
floor over the opposition of the majority leadership. As a GOP minority leader once
22 These strategic options have been modified to a degree and come from Jones, The
Minority Party in Congress, p. 20.
23 Jennifer Babson, “Democrats Refine the Tactics of Minority Party Power,” Congressional
Quarterly Weekly Report, July 15, 1995, p. 2037.
24 Ethan Wallison, “Gephardt Plans Petition Strategy,” Roll Call, May 17, 1999, p. 1.
said, the challenges he confronted are to “keep our people together, and to look for
votes on the other side.”25
Minority leaders may engage in numerous activities to publicize their party’s
priorities and to criticize the opposition’s. For instance, to keep their party
colleagues “on message,” they insure that partisan colleagues are sent packets of
suggested press releases or “talking points” for constituent meetings in their districts;
they help to organize “town meetings” in Members’ districts around the country to
publicize the party’s agenda or a specific priority, such as health care or education;
they sponsor party “retreats” to discuss issues and assess the party’s public image;
they create “theme teams” to craft party messages that might be raised during the
one-minute, morning hour, or special order period in the House; they conduct surveys
of party colleagues to discern their policy preferences; they establish websites that
highlight and distribute party images and issues to users; and they organize task
forces or issue teams to formulate party programs and to develop strategies for
communicating these programs to the public.
House minority leaders also hold joint news conferences and consult with their
counterparts in the Senate — and with the president if their party controls the White
House. The overall objectives are to develop a coordinated communications strategy,
to share ideas and information, and to present a united front on issues. Minority
leaders also make floor speeches and close debate on major issues before the House;
they deliver addresses in diverse forums across the country; and they write books or
articles that highlight minority party goals and achievements. They must also be
prepared “to debate on the floor, ad lib, no notes, on a moment’s notice,” remarked
Minority Leader Michel.26 In brief, minority leaders are key strategists in developing
and promoting the party’s agenda and in outlining ways to neutralize the opposition’s
arguments and proposals.
Confer With the White House. If his or her party controls the White House,
the minority leader confers regularly with the President and his aides about issues
before Congress, the Administration’s agenda, and political events generally.
Strategically, the role of the minority leader will vary depending on whether the
President is of the same party or the other party. In general, minority leaders will
often work to advance the goals and aspirations of their party’s President in
Congress. When Robert Michel, R-IL, was minority leader (1981-1995), he typically27
functioned as the “point man” for Republican presidents. President Ronald
Reagan’s 1981 policy successes in the Democratic controlled House was due in no
small measure to Minority Leader Michel’s effectiveness in wooing so-called
“Reagan Democrats” to support, for instance, the Administration’s landmark budget
reconciliation bill. There are occasions, of course, when minority leaders will fault
the legislative initiatives of their President. On an administration proposal that could
25 Irwin Arieff, “Inside Congress,” Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, Feb. 28, 1981,
26 Congressional Record, Sept. 12, 1989, p. E3000.
27 William F. Connelly, Jr. and John J. Pitney, Jr., Congress’ Permanent Minority?
Republicans in the U.S. House (Lanham, Maryland: Littlefield Adams, 1994), p. 15.
adversely affect his district, Michel stated that he might “abdicate my leadership role
[on this issue] since I can’t harmonize my own views with the administration’s.”28
Minority Leader Gephardt, as another example, has publicly opposed a number of
President Clinton’s legislative initiatives from “fast track” trade authority to various
When the White House is controlled by the House majority party, then the
House minority leader assumes a larger role in formulating alternatives to executive
branch initiatives and in acting as a national spokesperson for his or her party. “As
Minority Leader during [President Lyndon Johnson’s] Democratic administration,
my responsibility has been to propose Republican alternatives,” said Minority Leader
Gerald Ford, R-MI.30 Greatly outnumbered in the House, Minority Leader Ford
devised a political strategy that allowed Republicans to offer their alternatives in a
manner that provided them political protection. As Ford explained:
“We used a technique of laying our program out in general debate,” he said.
When we got to the amendment phase, we would offer our program as a
substitute for the Johnson proposal. If we lost in the Committee of the Whole,
then we would usually offer it as a motion to recommit and get a vote on that.
And if we lost on the motion to recommit, our Republican members had a choice:
They could vote against the Johnson program and say we did our best to come
up with a better alternative. Or they could vote for it and make the same
argument. Usually we lost; but when you’re only 140 out of 435, you don’t31
expect to win many.
Ford also teamed with Senate Minority Leader Everett McKinley Dirksen, R-IL,
to act as national spokesmen for their party. They met with the press every Thursday
following the weekly joint leadership meeting. Ford’s predecessor as minority
leader, Charles Halleck, R-IN, probably received more visibility in this role, because
the press and media dubbed it the “Ev and Charlie Show.” In fact, the “Republican
National Committee budgeted $30,000 annually to produce the weekly news
Foster Party Harmony. Minority status, by itself, is often an important
inducement for minority party members to stay together, to accommodate different
interests, and to submerge intraparty factional disagreements. To hold a diverse
membership together often requires extensive consultations and discussions with
28 Dorothy Collin, “Michel Plays to Peoria — and U.S.,” Chicago Tribune, Aug. 16, 1982,
29 See Jim Vande Hei, “White House Sidesteps Gephardt’s Leadership,” Roll Call, July 7,
30 James M. Cannon, “Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, 1965-1973,” in
Masters of the House, p. 275.
31 Ibid., p. 271.
32 Burdette Loomis, “The Consummate Minority Leader: Everette M. Dirksen,” in Richard
Baker and Roger Davidson, eds., First Among Equals (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 1991),
rank-and-file Members and with different factional groupings. As Minority Leader
We have weekly caucus meetings. We have daily leadership meetings. We have
weekly ranking Member meetings. We have party effectiveness meetings.
There’s a lot more communication. I believe leadership is bottom up, not top
down. I think you have to build policy and strategy and vision from the bottom33
up, and involve people in figuring out what that is.
Gephardt added that “inclusion and empowerment of the people on the line have
to be done to get the best performance” from the minority party.34 Other techniques
for fostering party harmony include the appointment of task forces composed of
partisan colleagues with conflicting views to reach consensus on issues; the creation
of new leadership positions as a way to reach out and involve a greater diversity of
partisans in the leadership structure; and daily meetings in the Leader’s office (or at
breakfast, lunch, or dinner) to lay out floor strategy or political objectives for the
Given the concentration of agenda control and other institutional resources in
the majority leadership, the minority leader has his work cut out for him in promoting
and publicizing his or her party’s priorities, serving the interests of his rank-and-file
Members, managing intraparty conflict, and forging party unity. The ultimate goal
of the minority leader is to lead his or her party to majority control. Yet there is no
set formula on how this is to be done. “If the history of elections is any guide, it
seems apparent that the congressional record of the minority party is only one of
many factors that may result in majority status. Most of the other factors cannot be35
controlled by the minority party and its leaders.”
33 Eliza Newlin Carney, “Don’t Count Us Out,” National Journal, Apr. 29, 1995, p. 1024.
34 Davidson, et. al., Masters of the House, p. 323.
35 Jones, The Minority Party in Congress, p. 23. Emphasis in the original statement.
Appendix. House Minority Leaders, 1899-2006
James D. Richardson, D-TN56th (1899-1901)
John Sharp Williams, D-MS58th (1903-1905)
Williams/Champ Clark, D-MOa60th (1907-1909)
James R. Mann, R-IL62nd (1911-1913)
Claude Kitchin, D-NC67th (1921-1923)
Finis J. Garrett, D-TN68th (1923-1925)
John N. Garner, D-TX71st (1929-1931)
Betrand H. Snell, R-NY72nd (1931-1933)
Joseph W. Martin Jr., R-MA76th (1939-1941)
Sam Rayburn, D-TX80th (1947-1949)
Charles A. Halleck, R-IN86th (1959-1961)
Gerald R. Ford, R-MI89th (1965-1967)
Ford/John J. Rhodes, R-AZb93rd (1973-1975)
Robert H. Michel, R-IL97th (1981-1983)
Richard A. Gephardt, D-MO104th (1995-1997)
Nancy Pelosi, D-CA108th (2003-2005)
Source: Guide to Congress, Fifth Edition, Vol. II, Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2000, pp. 1102-1103.
a. Clark became minority leader in 1908.
b. Rhodes became minority leader on Dec. 7, 1973, filling the vacancy caused by the resignation of
Ford on Dec. 6, 1973, to become vice president.