How House Leaders and Whips are Picked

As you probably know by now, Kevin McCarthy of California is the new Majority leader in the House and Steve Scalise of Louisiana is the new Majority whip after a vote to fill the vacancy created when McCarthy won the leadership position vacated by Eric Cantor.

Go to most “conservative” websites today, and you will find pieces on the selections of a new Majority leader and Majority whip in the House of Representatives. Of course most US media sites will have coverage of these selections, but I am singling out many of the sources who proclaim to be “conservative,” Tea Party, original intent with Constitutional interpretations, and anti RINO as well as Democrat because a common theme I have read about the selections has been a criticism of the secret votes.

Personally I feel the same way about secret votes and even voice votes as I do about anonymous contributions to political campaigns and “political,” technically social organizations that just happen to moonlight in politics. I oppose both from my personal standpoint.

The procedures for determining who holds these leadership positions, however, have not changed since first being implemented. Actually, these procedures and positions are not a part of the Constitution and came into existence in the late 19th century.

The 56th Congress (1899-1901) had the first Majority Leader in the House with the selection of Sereno Payne of New York by the Republican Conference.  Payne chaired the powerful Ways and Means Committee, but this position of Majority Leader resulted from desires to keep members of the different parties united.

It really does not matter if the majority party is Democrat or Republican. The votes for the leadership position have always been conducted by secret ballot. The only difference between parties is in name only as the Democrats refer to themselves as the Democratic Caucus while the Republicans use the terminology of Republican Conference. If someone wants to get trivial, differing nuances do exist, but for the purpose of choosing leaders the process is the same regardless of party.

The position of Party Whip predates that of Majority leader by a single Congress. James Tawney of Minnesota became the first Majority Whip when Speaker Thomas Reed of Maine appointed Tawney to the position in 1897. The job of the whip is to serve as a communication bridge between the party leadership and members in the Chamber and to build support for the leadership and to get members to vote on key legislation. Historically, whips have at times been appointed and at other times determined within the Conference or Caucus. While the duties of the Whip has basically been the same regardless of party affiliation, Democrats and Republicans have differed on the selections of other whips such as regional whips, assistant whips, and deputy whips. The numbers, titles, and responsibilities of such positions have differed with party, time, and circumstances of the day.

For information about these procedures and others involving Members of the House of Representatives, please refer to the Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives.

A direct link to current leadership is available here:

A direct link to Member FAQs is available here: