House Leadership: Whip Organization

CRS Report for Congress
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House Leadership: Whip Organization
Judy Schneider
Specialist on the Congress
Government and Finance Division
The whip system performs two primary functions: to take responsibility for the
mobilization of party Members for key votes and to serve as a conduit for information
between party leaders and party Members.
Role and Responsibility
Vote Mobilization.The chief responsibility of the whip is to “count heads.” The
whips help their respective party leaders keep track of the whereabouts of Members in
order to assist in the scheduling of legislation, in the case of the majority, or in the planning
of opposition tactics, in the case of the minority.
Whips also “whip up” support for a party position. They try to build voting coalitions
from disparate groups of party Members. They work with the other party leaders to
fashion legislation that party Members will support. The whip is also expected to “get out
the vote,” by making sure that Members will be present on the floor during close votes.
Often, whips are stationed at the door leading to the chamber with “thumbs up” or
“thumbs down” to indicate the party preference on the matter being voted on.
Information Dissemination. As part of an information dissemination function, whips
prepare “advisories” to provide daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly schedules. These
notices address what measures are anticipated on the floor, the time for convening and
expected adjournment of the chamber, and when, and on what amendments, votes might
occur. Issue papers are also often provided by a whip office, although they are generally
prepared in conjunction with the party caucus or conference. “Recess packets” are
generated prior to a district work period, giving party Members information on major
points the party wants stressed while the Members are at home.
Whip Organization
House Republicans have always had an elected whip. The Democrats appointed their
whip until 1986; from then on, the position has been an elected one.1 Each whip is aided

1 In the last 25 years, the Republican whip position was contested twice: in 1980, when then Rep.
Trent Lott defeated Rep. Bud Shuster (96-90); and, in 1989, when Rep. Newt Gingrich defeated
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by a large whip organization. The majority and minority whips are assisted by appointed
chief deputies. The Republicans have one chief deputy whip, the Democrats have six.
Assistant, or at-large, whips are usually appointed by the whip or party leadership.
Assistant whips often represent classes of Members, such as the freshmen class or the
women Members. Regional whips, also referred to as zone whips, are elected by Members
within a geographic region.
The following table depicts the formal and official party whip structure. It does not
include informal whip positions that Members may acquire due to their affiliation with
groups of Members.
Type of WhipDemocratRepublican
Chief Deputy Whip61
Deputy Whips1217
Assistant Whip49
At-Large Whip70
Regional Whip24
The “whipper in” is a British term for the person responsible for keeping the
foxhounds from leaving the pack. It was first used in the House of Commons in the late

1700s and in the House of Representatives in 1897, when James A. Tawney (R-Minn.)

was appointed a whip by Speaker Thomas Reed (R-Maine) to help Reed keep track of the
whereabouts of party Members. A Democratic whip was appointed soon thereafter, with
most historical accounts setting the date as 1901. The whip, and an official whip
organization, was first extensively used in the 1930s, when Democrats chose “assistant
whips” to be responsible for Members from specified geographic areas or zones.
In 1955, Democrats created a deputy whip position, specifically for one Member,
although the job did not have defined responsibilities. A Democratic chief deputy whip
position was created in 1972; the Democrats appointed four deputy whips in 1981. In
1992, four chief deputy whips were appointed by the Democratic leadership. In 2002, two
additional chief deputy whips were appointed. The leadership also appointed numerous
deputy and at-large whips. Today, there are both appointed and elected whips,
representing regions, classes of Members, groups of Members (such as women, Hispanics,
and African Americans), and others.
The Republican whip organization has historically not received as much scholarly or
press attention as the Democratic whip organization. It appears that the Republican whip
organization was not as structured or formalized as the Democratic whip organization until
the Republicans assumed the House majority in 1995.

1 (...continued)
Rep. Edward Madigan (87-85). The Democratic whip position was contested in 1991, when Rep.
David Bonior defeated Rep. Steny Hoyer (160-109), and in 2001, when Rep. Nancy Pelosi defeated
Rep. Steny Hoyer (118-95).