Congress: What's the difference between the Speaker and the Majority leader?

What’s the difference in function between the Speaker of the House of Reps and the Majority Leader in the House of Reps? They’re both normally fropm the same party, the one that has the majority in the House, and I understand that the Speaker is a partisan position, unlike the Speaker in the parliamentary tradition.

So why do you need to have two leaders of the majority caucus?

Isn’t one a position within a single party, and the other a position in the Congress itself?


That’s what I’d have thought too. The Speaker is an “official” functionary of the Congress with specific rights and duties. Isn’t he in the presidential line of succession?

Right behind the VP in the line.

The Speaker is the highest ranking House member, and is selected by the party with the majority in Congress. There actually is nothing requiring the Speaker to be elected to the House, as the Constitution is silent on requirements to hold the position.

The idea of having a separate Majority Leader didn’t come about until 1899, when Speaker David B. Henderson decided it was necessary to have a leader who wasn’t burdened with the responsibilities of being Speaker.

True, but it seems to me from news items that he also exercises considerable control over what matters will come to the floor of the Reps, and does so from a partisan perspective. In a parliamentary system, that would be the role of the majority house leader, so what does the Majority Leader in the Reps do?

The Speaker presides over the House. The Majority Leader manages the House’s business on the floor – calls up bills for consideration, makes motions, and allocates and yields time among the majority, among other functions, none of which can be performed by the presiding officer. The Minority Leader plays the same role for the minority, but can’t control the calendar as the Majority Leader can.

Both parties nominate candidates for the position (last time the Democrats nominated Nancy Pelosi, the Republicans Dennis Hastert), all members (can) vote.

CMC fnord!

There’s really no answer except “it just worked out that way”.

In the Nineteenth Century, the presiding officers of both houses exercised real power–the Speaker in the House, and the Vice President or the President pro tempore in the Senate. (Nineteenth Century VP’s had the life expectancy of gangsta rappers, so the office was often vacant.)

The power derived from the traditional prerogatives of a presiding officer–naming committee members, controlling the schedule, managing debate, and issuing parliamentary rulings. The Speaker’s role tended to be more muscular, only because Senators were and are more independent-minded and less likely to defer to an unelected VP who might not even be from the partisan majority. But even the VP/PPT exercised some power.

In the Twentieth Century, within the Senate, leaders elected by the party caucuses emasculated the VP/PPT to the point where presiding was delegated to junior senators as a chore. All of the functions formerly performed by the VP/PPT (except for sitting in the chair and calling on senators) are performed by the Majority Leader. The VP shows up only for ceremonial occasions and to break ties.

Within the House, a parallel process has taken place, but because the Speakers were themselves leaders elected by party caucuses, they’ve been better able to resist the erosion of their power. The Majority Leader tends to fill a role more like the Whip in other bodies, and the Majority Whip . . . is more like an assistant whip. Such is the modus vivendi that has evolved over the last 100 years.