Among House GOP leaders, who exactly does what?

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), center, with outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), left, and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

This item has been updated and corrected

House Republicans will gather this week to elect a new majority leader and majority whip — the second- and third-ranking positions in the GOP leadership ranks, but also two key members of the House with managerial responsibilities. The election is being called after the unexpected primary defeat of the current majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Whoever wins the leader and whip positions will serve alongside House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who remains in his position, but may soon opt to retire or face a challenge from someone within the Republican ranks.

So what does the speaker do? The leader? The whip? (And what's with that oddly-named title?) Here's a quick primer:


The speaker is the presiding officer of the House and is generally considered the public face of the body. But he doesn't currently enjoy as much power of the chamber as the title suggests.

John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has held the position since January 2011, when Republicans took control of the House. He succeeded Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who was the first woman to hold the position.

Despite being the official presiding officer of the House, the speaker rarely leads floor debate from the Speaker's Rostrum and instead cedes those duties to a small group of members of his party. He or she also cedes most day-to-day, operational control of the House to the majority leader. (See below.)

The speaker does, however, set his party's legislative agenda and maintains several administrative duties, including swearing in new members, accepting the resignation of colleagues and controlling the House's budget. For example, he or she must approve taxpayer-funded congressional delegations that travel overseas.

In consultation with the majority leader, the speaker also controls his party's steering committee, which determines the size and membership of the various committees.

The speaker is second in the presidential line of succession after the vice president, so he's always trailed by a security detail.

Members of the House elect the speaker on the first day of a new two-year legislative session. Notably, the Constitution doesn't require that the speaker be a member of the House,  but so far all speakers have been lawmakers.

Beyond official duties, the speaker is a key party leader and major fundraising draw. During the 2012 political cycle, Boehner traveled the country helping to raise nearly $97 million for GOP congressional candidates.

The speaker's partisan counterpart is the House minority leader, who is Pelosi.


There's a House leadership shakeup after Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., lost his primary -- and with it, his seat in Congress. That leaves the majority leader position open, plus questions about who will step in as the Republican whip. But what do a majority leader and whip do, anyway? The Fix's Chris Cillizza has all you need to know. (Julie Percha/The Washington Post)

When is the House in session? Which bills will come to the floor? These are decisions for the majority leader.

Eric Cantor has held the position since January 2011. He is the youngest leader in congressional history and the first Jewish man to hold the position.

While second in command, the leader is responsible for key operational details of the House and also plays a key role in executing his party's legislative agenda. It's the leader who sets the House schedule, so credit or blame for long recesses -- which Cantor has formally dubbed "district work periods" -- goes to him.

The leader isn't in the presidential line of succession but is also assigned a security detail, mostly in the event that top congressional leaders need to be whisked away to a secure location in the event of a major disaster, as they were after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The leader is elected by members of his party in a secret, closed-door meeting.

The majority leader's partisan counterpart is House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who served as majority leader when Democrats last controlled the chamber.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)


Is a bill going to pass? Who's going to vote for it? It's the job of the whip to know.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has held the job since January 2011. He succeeded Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who now serves as an assistant minority leader.

If the speaker sets the legislative agenda and the majority leader lays out the game plan, it's the whip who ensures that legislation will pass. House Republican tradition dictates that no legislation is supposed to be brought to a vote unless a majority of the GOP conference plans to support it -- but the edict has been violated in recent years. In some cases, the majority leader and whip have abruptly pulled legislation from the floor due to a lack of Republican support.

So how does the whip count votes? It's a complex process rooted in old-school techniques. The whipping is done on a member-to-member basis, with no aides, e-mail or text messaging permitted.

McCarthy oversees a team of dozens of deputy whips -- the exact number is a closely guarded secret, but his lead deputy is Rep. Peter Roskam (D-Ill.). Other deputy whips are chosen to meet a variety of factors, including geography, political ideology and the year they were elected to office.

As The Washington Post's Paul Kane wrote last summer, about a week before a key vote, McCarthy and his team fan out across the House floor with sheets of paper, instructing fellow Republicans to check one of five boxes indicating their position on a bill: yes, lean yes, undecided, lean no, no. The sheets of paper are then compiled by McCarthy aides, who input the answers into a database. Over the next few days, each member gets a follow-up with questions about his or her position.

The whip isn't in the presidential line of succession, but as a senior House leader is given security protection. The whip is elected by members of his party in the same secret, closed-door meeting where a leader is chosen and then the whip recruits members for his whip team.

And why is the position called the whip? The term is applied to the job in the House and the Senate and derives from the fox-hunting expression -- "whipper-in" -- which refers to the member of the hunting team responsible for keeping the dogs from straying during a chase, according to the Office of the Senate Historian.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported the amount of campaign money Boehner helped raise during the 2012 political cycle.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.



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