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What do speakers, whips and majority leaders do?

House Republicans meet Thursday to choose a new majority leader and majority whip — a snap election called in the wake of the primary defeat of the current majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va. The new leader and whip will serve alongside House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). But what does each of the leaders actually do? Here's a quick primer.

Speaker of the House: The speaker is the presiding officer. His main power derives from his ability to determine what bills come to the floor for debate and a vote, allowing enormous control over the nation's legislative and political agenda.

Members of the House elect the speaker on the first day of a new two-year legislative session. He or she is usually the leader of the majority party, but is elected by the entire House, usually along party lines.

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.

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.

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

As 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 goes to him.

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

House majority whip: Is a bill going to pass? Who's going to vote for it? It's the job of the whip to know. The whip keeps the count. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has held the job since January 2011.

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.

So how does the whip count votes? It's a complex process, done on a member-to-member basis, with no aides, email or text messaging permitted.

McCarthy oversees a team of dozens of deputy whips — the exact number is a closely guarded secret.

The whip is elected by members of his party in the same secret, closed-door meeting where a leader is chosen. The new whip later selects his deputies.

The term, "whip," 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 Senate Historian.

What do speakers, whips and majority leaders do? 06/17/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 5:12pm]
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