Senate Leadership: Whip Organization

Senate 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, or 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 conference. “Recess packets” are generated prior to a state
work period, giving Senators information on major points the party wants stressed while
Senators are at home.
Party Leadership. The whip, also called the assistant party leader, is considered a
member of the official party leadership. As such, the whip works closely with the party
leader to determine overall strategy, works for the passage or defeat of particular
legislative initiatives, speaks during “leader time” on the floor on behalf of the party,
deals with the press, and works with, or against, the White House on its specific

Whip Organization
Each party whip is aided by a whip organization. The majority and minority whips
are assisted by appointed chief deputy whips. The Democrats appoint one chief deputy
whip and three deputy whips; the Republicans appoint one chief deputy whip, and seven
deputy whips.
Type of WhipDemocratRepublican
Whip/Assistant Party11
Chief Deputy Whip11
Deputy Whips37
At-large, also called assistant whips, often are selected to represent specific classes
of members. Regional whip positions can also be created to represent and canvas Senators
within a geographic region.
The term “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


The Senate did not designate whips until the late nineteenth century. J. Hamilton
Lewis (D-Ill.) became the first official whip in the Senate in 1913. The first Republican
whip, James Wadsworth (R-NY) was appointed whip and conference secretary in 1915.
One week later the Republicans decided to divide the two positions. Senator Wadsworth
was replaced as whip by Senator Charles Curtis of Kansas.
The existence of a whip organization has changed through time, in part depending
on the number of Members each party had in a particular Congress. In years when a party
had only 30 or 40 Senators, for example, the party whip often did not create deputy or
assistant whips.