What Does The House Minority Leader Do?

Learn more about the role of the House Minority Leader, and the Republican Congressman currently in this position, Kevin McCarthy.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)

What Is The Role Of The House Minority Leader?

The House Minority Leader is the head of the minority party in the United States House of Representatives. The main goal of the House Minority Leader is to win back the majority of the House in the next election. While there are few formal rules for the role of House Minority Leader, there are many traditions and customs that are observed.

The individual parties may define certain roles and responsibilities for the Minority Leader, which could include such things as appointing members to certain committees or serving on a particular party leadership committee. Electing a leader for the minority allows one person to be the spokesperson, or “Loyal Opposition” for the entire minority in the House. The House Minority Leader’s activities fall broadly into one of the following five categories:

  • Campaign Assistance: The House Minority Leader will campaign for their party’s House incumbents and congressional candidates, speak at their campaign events, establish Leadership PACs, and will coordinate campaign messages with partisan campaign committees and their Leadership counterpart in the Senate.
  • Devise Strategy: The House Minority Leader decides which strategies to employ against the Majority in order to accomplish goals. The strategies employed depend on the makeup of each Congress and range from cooperation with the majority to proposing alternative legislation to complete obstruction.
  • Promotion and Publicity: Publicizing the minority party’s agenda is part of the House Minority Leader’s role. The House Minority Leader will promote cohesiveness in the party by providing talking points and press releases to their members, will appear in news conferences, and will coordinate with Senate Leadership counterparts to promote their agenda.
  • Confer with the White House: If the House minority party holds the White House, the House Minority Leader will meet with the president or his staff about issues before Congress. In this type of situation, the president can amplify the minority party message.
  • Party Harmony: The House Minority Leader will hold daily meetings with members, plan retreats, and create task forces as needed to assist in bringing their party together.

The formal responsibilities laid out in the House for the Minority Leader include allowing the Minority Leader to offer alternative legislation to the majority, the joint appointment of Inspector General (with the Speaker and Majority Leader), Oversight plans, and the appointment of 10 members to the Committee on Ethics Investigative Subcommittees. Along with the Speaker, the Minority Leader will attend the Intelligence Committee meetings but neither is a voting member, nor do they count when determining a quorum.

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How Does One Become The House Minority Leader?

The House Minority Leader is elected every two years via secret ballot of the party caucus or conference. Due to the importance and breadth of the role, the elected Representative generally has years of Congressional experience.

What Makes The House Minority Leader So Powerful?

Being House Minority Leader is a powerful position because they steer the party’s agenda in the House. They can choose whether the party line will be cooperation with the Majority, complete obstruction, or some variation in between. Within the party, they can choose to withhold campaign support to party members not performing, or not conforming to the party line. The House Minority Leader gets to decide which priorities the party will pursue, if any, while in the minority. They act as the party’s spokesperson and decide which bipartisan legislation on which to work with the majority.

The work of the Minority Leader is much more substantive than that of a regular Congressman, requiring constant communication with members, the press, and interested third parties. The House Minority Leader is granted extra staff based on the extra duties required. The House Minority Leader must try to keep the party unified in order to exert as much power as the minority can in the House.

Who Is The Current House Minority Leader?

Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is the current House Minority Leader, serving California’s 23rd District. McCarthy was born and raised in Bakersfield, California and opened his own business at age 21, a deli, before attending California State University Bakersfield. He has earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in business from that institution.

In 2002 he was elected to serve in California’s State Assembly. First elected to the U.S. Congress in 2006, McCarthy was elected House Majority Leader in 2014, holding that position until Democrats regained control of the House, when he was elected House Minority Leader in 2019. McCarthy championed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that the Republican majority passed in December 2017, an act that has been lacking in the fiscal rewards promised by Republicans.

List Of House Minority Leaders

Democratic

  • James Richardson (D-TN) 1899-1903
  • John S. Williams (D-MS) 1903-1908
  • James B. (Champ) Clark (D-MO) 1908-1911
  • James B. (Champ) Clark (D-MO) 1919-1921
  • Claude Kitchin (D-NC) 1921-1923
  • Finis J. Garrett (D-TN) 1923-1929
  • John N. Garner (D-TX) 1929-1931
  • Sam T. Rayburn (D-TX) 1947-1948
  • Sam T. Rayburn (D-TX) 1953-1954
  • Richard A. Gephardt (D-MO) 1995-2002
  • Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) 2003-2006
  • Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) 2011-2019

Republican

  • James R. Mann (R-IL) 1911-1919
  • Bertrand H. Snell (R-NY) 1931-1938
  • Joseph W. Martin Jr. (R-MA) 1939-1946
  • Joseph W. Martin Jr. (R-MA) 1949-1952
  • Joseph W. Martin Jr. (R-MA) 1955-1958
  • Charles A. Halleck (R-IN) 1959-1964
  • Gerald R. Ford (R-MI) 1965-1973
  • John J. Rhodes (R-A) 1973-1980
  • Robert H. Michel (R-IL) 1981-1994
  • John A. Boehner (R-OH) 2007-2010
  • Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) 2019-Present

The Rantt Rundown

The House Minority Leader is a powerful position in the United States House. The position sets the tone of the “Loyal Opposition” for the minority party. The Leader has multiple responsibilities to party members, including campaigning, coordinating communication talking points, championing counter legislation, and setting priorities, all in an attempt to retake the majority in the House. The House Minority Leader determines the agenda the minority will pursue for the two-year congressional session and must keep all factions of the party unified and ready to pursue their agenda once they can retake the majority.

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Rantt 101 // Congress