Party leaders of the United States House of Representatives

Majority Leader of the
United States House of Representatives
Republican Leader
Eric Cantor

since January 3, 2011
Style Leader
Inaugural holder James Mann
Formation 1911
Minority Leader of the
United States House of Representatives
Democratic Leader
Nancy Pelosi

since January 3, 2011
Style Leader
Inaugural holder Oscar W. Underwood
Formation 1911
United States

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Control of the U.S. House of Representatives (1855–2010).[1][2][3]

Party leaders of the United States House of Representatives are elected by their respective parties in a closed-door caucus by secret ballot and are also known as floor leaders.[4] The U.S. House of Representatives does not officially use the term "Minority Leader", although the media frequently does. The House instead uses the terms "Republican Leader" or "Democratic Leader" depending on which party holds a minority of seats.

The current House Majority Leader is Republican Eric Cantor, while the current House Minority Leader is Democrat Nancy Pelosi.



Unlike in Westminster style legislatures, as well as in the case of the Senate Majority Leader, the House Majority Leader is subordinate to the Speaker of the House, who is by tradition the actual head of the majority party in the House of Representatives, although the Speaker usually does not participate in debate and rarely votes on the floor. In some cases, though, Majority Leaders have been more influential than the Speaker.[5]

The Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives serves as floor leader of the opposition party, and is the minority counterpart to the Majority Leader. Unlike the Majority Leader, the Minority Leader is also the actual head of his or her party in the House, and is on the ballot for Speaker of the House during the convening of the Congress. If the Minority Leader's party takes control of the House, and the party officers are all re-elected to their seats, the Minority Leader is usually the party's top choice for Speaker for the next Congress, while the Minority Whip is typically in line to become Majority Leader. The Minority Leader usually meets with the Majority Leader and the Speaker to discuss agreements on controversial issues.

Thus the Speaker of the House and the Minority Leader are considered the respective "faces" and leaders of their caucuses in the House, while the Majority Leader's duties and prominence varies depending upon the style of the Speaker. The Speaker, Minority Leader, and Majority Leader receive special office suites in the United States Capitol.


The floor leaders and whips of each party are elected by their respective parties in a closed-door caucus by secret ballot.[citation needed] The Speaker-elect is also chosen in a closed-door session although they are formally installed in their position by a public vote when Congress reconvenes.[4]

Like the speaker of the house, the minority 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 had served as minority whip in the 107th 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

By contrast, Party leaders of the United States Senate have often ascended to their position despite relatively few years of experience in that chamber,[citation needed] such as Lyndon B. Johnson, William F. Knowland, and Bill Frist. Current House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also had a comparatively quick rise to his current post.


Before 1899, the majority party floor leader had traditionally been the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the most powerful committee in the House, as it generates the Bills of Revenue specified in the Constitution as the House's unique power.[6]

The office of Majority Leader was created in 1899 by Speaker David B. Henderson for Sereno Payne.[citation needed] Henderson saw a need for a party leader on the House floor separate from the Speaker, as the role of Speaker had become more prominent, and the size of the House had grown from 105 at the beginning of the century to 356.

Starting with Republican Nicholas Longworth in 1925, and continued through the Democrats' control of the House from 1931–95, save for Republican majorities in 1947–49 and 1953–55, all majority leaders have directly ascended to the Speakership brought upon by the retirement of the incumbent. The only exceptions during this period were Charles A. Halleck who became Republican House leader and Minority Leader from 1959–65, Hale Boggs who died in a plane crash, and Dick Gephardt who became the Democrats' House leader but as Minority Leader since his party lost control in the 1994 midterm elections. Since 1995, the only Majority Leader to become Speaker is John Boehner, though indirectly as his party lost control in the 2006 midterms elections. He subsequently served as Republican House leader and Minority Leader from 2007-2011 and then was elected Speaker when the House reconvened in 2011. In 1998, with Speaker Newt Gingrich announcing his resignation, both Majority Leader Dick Armey and Majority Whip Tom DeLay did not contest the Speakership which eventually went to Chief Deputy Whip Dennis Hastert.

While the Speaker has long been the de facto party leader in the House, there have been some exceptions. In 1995, Speaker Newt Gingrich delegated the day-to-day House operations to Majority Leader Dick Armey,[citation needed] leaving Gingrich free to travel the country to rally support for his Contract with America agenda. Majority Leader Tom Delay generally overshadowed Speaker Dennis Hastert from 2003-2006.[7]

When the Presidency and both Houses of Congress are controlled by one party, the Speaker normally takes a low profile and defers to the President.[citation needed] For that situation the House Minority Leader can play the role of a de facto "leader of the opposition", often more so than the Senate Minority Leader, due to the more partisan nature of the House and the greater role of leadership.

When the Majority Leader's party loses control of the House, and if the Speaker and Majority Leader both remain in the leadership hierarchy, convention suggests that they would become the Minority Leader and Minority Whip, respectively. As the minority party has one less leadership position after losing the speaker's chair, there may be a contest for the remaining leadership positions. Nancy Pelosi is the most recent example of an outgoing Speaker seeking the Minority Leader post to retain the House party leadership, as the Democrats lost control of the House in the 2010 elections. Previous Speakers whose party has lost control of the House have not returned to the party leadership (Tom Foley lost his seat, and Dennis Hastert returned to the backbenches and later resigned). However, outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi ran successfully for Minority Leader in the 112th Congress.[8][9]

List of party leaders

(Names in Bold indicate Majority Leaders)

Congress(es) Dates Democratic leader Speaker Republican leader
1899–1903 James Richardson David B. Henderson Sereno E. Payne
1903–1908 John Sharp Williams Joseph Gurney Cannon
1908–1911 Champ Clark
1911–1915 Oscar W. Underwood Champ Clark James Mann
1915–1919 Claude Kitchin
66th 1919–1921 Champ Clark Frederick Gillett Frank W. Mondell
67th 1921–1923 Claude Kitchin
68th 1923–1925 Finis Garrett Nicholas Longworth
1925–1929 Nicholas Longworth John Q. Tilson
71st 1929–1931 John Nance Garner
72nd 1931–1933 Henry T. Rainey John Nance Garner Bertrand Snell
73rd 1933–1935 Joseph Byrns Henry T. Rainey
74th 1935–1937 William B. Bankhead Joseph Byrns
75th 1937–1939 Sam Rayburn William Bankhead
76th 1939–1941 Joseph Martin
1941–1947 John William
Sam Rayburn
80th 1947–1949 Sam Rayburn Joseph Martin Charles A. Halleck
1949–1953 John William
Sam Rayburn Joseph Martin
83rd 1953–1955 Sam Rayburn Joseph Martin Charles A. Halleck
1955–1959 John William
Sam Rayburn Joseph Martin
86th 1959–1961 Charles A. Halleck
1961–1965 Carl Albert John William
1965–1971 Gerald Ford
92nd 1971–1973 Hale Boggs Carl Albert
1973–1977 Tip O'Neill John Rhodes
1977–1981 Jim Wright Tip O'Neill
1981–1987 Robert Michel
100th 1987–1989 Tom Foley Jim Wright
1989–1995 Dick Gephardt Tom Foley
1995–1999 Dick Gephardt Newt Gingrich Dick Armey
1999–2003 Dennis Hastert
2003–2005 Nancy Pelosi Tom DeLay
109th 2005–2006 Roy Blunt (acting)
2006–2007 John Boehner
2007–2011 Steny Hoyer Nancy Pelosi John Boehner
112th 2011–present Nancy Pelosi John Boehner Eric Cantor
Congress(es) Dates Democratic Leader Speaker Republican Leader

See also


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