What Does The House Majority Leader Do?

Learn more about the House Majority Leader who assists the Speaker of the House in legislation and preserving the party's majority.
Congressman Steny Hoyer, April 2016 (Photo Credit: Department of Labor/Shawn T Moore)

Congressman Steny Hoyer, April 2016 (Photo Credit: Department of Labor/Shawn T Moore)

While the speaker of the house may have a very visible role front and center in the United States House of Representatives, the majority leader is the workhorse behind the scenes. Setting legislative agendas, building coalitions, and campaigning for incumbents all fall within the purvue of the House majority leader.

What Is The Role Of The House Majority Leader?

In the United States House of Representatives, the House majority leader assists the Speaker of the House in advancing the party’s legislative agenda and works to campaign and fundraise for candidates in order to preserve the party’s majority.

The role of the Majority Leader can differ depending on the balance of power within Congress and the goals of the Speaker of the House. The Majority Leader does have one specific duty mandated by law, however. Any fast track trade agreement from the President must be introduced by the majority leaders in the House and Senate.

How Does One Become The House Majority Leader?

Majority leaders are selected every two years through a secret ballot or caucus process that is held at the beginning of each new Congressional session.

The United States Congress didn’t rely on majority or minority leaders to conduct legislative business until the late 19th century as the two-party system took hold of politics. When the Majority Leader role was first established, it was an informal position that was assumed by either the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee or the Appropriations Committee.

The first majority leader to serve in the House of Representatives was Republican Sereno Elisha Payne in 1899 who would go on to assume the role five more times until Republicans lost control of the House in 1911.

Democrats had grown increasingly concerned about the power consolidated under the Speaker of the House, so when they took power, they made the role of Majority Leader an elected position. The first majority leader elected by his own party was Democrat Oscar Underwood who assumed the role when Payne stepped down in 1911. Because the role expanded significantly over the years, the majority leader no longer serves as a chairman of any committee so they can focus on their legislative and party leadership role.

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What Makes The House Majority Leader So Powerful?

The House majority leader may do work that seems menial and even mundane. In previous Congresses, the majority leader often set the daily, weekly, and monthly legislative agendas and acted as a second in command to the speaker of the house. In other words, the speaker of the house is more likely to be in front of the cameras and the majority leader is often behind the scenes, managing the day to day operations.

However, there have been many House majority leaders that were considered more visible and powerful in terms of party and legislative influence than the speaker. Notable examples include Tom DeLay and Dick Armey, who had control over much of the legislative schedule under Newt Gingrich.

Much of the majority leader’s power comes not only from running the legislative business of the House but also from heading up coalition building. You’ll often find the House majority leader traveling to speak at incumbent campaign events or fundraising to flip districts. The majority leader can also serve a critical function in times of turmoil within the party, building bridges between factions and encouraging unity for the sake of good governance.

The majority leader is pivotal in formulating and articulating the party’s policy agenda and in previous Congresses has worked closely with the White House to conduct legislative business. This relationship can become stressed if the executive is occupied by a rival party and the House legislative agenda does not reflect the president’s priorities.

Who Is The Current House Majority Leader?

The current House Majority Leader is Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking Democratic member of the House of Representatives. This will be the third time Majority Leader Hoyer has assumed the role. He first served as majority leader under Nancy Pelosi in 2007, when Democrats seized the majority in the House and held it until 2011.

List Of House Majority Leaders

  • Sereno Elisha Payne (R) 1899-1911
  • Oscar Wilder Underwood (D) 1911-1915
  • Claude Kitchin (D) 1915-1919
  • Frank Wheeler Mondell (R) 1919-1923
  • Nicholas Longworth (R) 1923-1925
  • John Quillin Tilson (R) 1925-1931
  • Henry Thomas Rainey (D) 1931-1933
  • Joseph Wellington Byrns (D) 1933-1935
  • William Brockman Bankhead (D) 1935-1937
  • Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn (D) 1937-1941
  • John William McCormack (D) 1939-1947, 1955-1963
  • Charles Abraham Halleck (R) 1947-1949
  • Carl Bert Albert (D) 1961-1971
  • Thomas Hale Boggs, Sr. (D) 1971-1973
  • Thomas Phillip O’Neill, Jr. (Tip) (D) 1973-1977
  • James Claude Wright, Jr. (D) 1977-1987
  • Thomas Stephen Foley (D) 1987-1991
  • Richard Andrew Gephardt (D) 1989-1995
  • Richard Keith Armey (R) 1995-2003
  • Thomas Dale Delay (R) 2003-2007
  • Roy Blunt (R) 2005-2007
  • John Andrew Boehner (R) 2005-2007
  • Steny Hamilton Hoyer (D) 2007-2011, Current
  • Eric Cantor (R) 2011-2015
  • Kevin McCarthy (R) 2013-2019

The Rantt Rundown

As the two-party system has consolidated over the past century in the United States, the House Majority Leader’s role in shaping legislation and leading the party has grown. Today’s House majority leaders not only act as commanders in the field for the Speaker of the House but also take the lead on securing the party’s political future and legislative agenda. From Tip O’Neil to Dick Gephardt, many House majority leaders have gone on to assume other roles of leadership within their respective parties.

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Rantt 101 // Congress / Government