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Who Controls Congress

In the 112th Congress the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans hold the majority with 242 seats. The Democrats have 193 seats. The Democrats have a majority in the U.S. Senate with 51 seats and two Independents who caucus with the Democrats. There are 47 Republican senators.

2011 CAP logoThe two-chamber U.S. Congress has various positions and officers that run the business of governing and legislating in each chamber. The leadership in each chamber is elected by the political party caucuses after each election. In the House, there is the speaker of the House, the majority leader, minority leader and numerous whips. In the Senate, there is a president, a president pro-tempore, a majority leader, a minority leader and numerous whips. Each chamber also has clerks, secretaries and sergeants-at-arms who are not elected officials. 

U.S. House Leadership

The speaker of the House is the presiding officer of the U.S. House, and second in succession nto the president of the United States. This post is now held by John Boehner, Republican representative of the 8th District of Ohio. Speaker Boehner was first elected to the U.S. House in 1990 and served as the majority whip under Newt Gingrich. He was selected by his fellow Republicans as minority leader in 2005, after Republicans lost their majority in the House. Boehner held his Republican Caucus together unanimously against labor-backed bills like the Employee Free Choice Act, health care reform and extensions on unemployment compensation.

After the speaker is the majority leader. In this Congress, the position is filled by Eric Cantor of Virginia’s 7th District. Cantor was first elected in 2000, and served as the minority whip in the 111th Congress under Boehner. The majority leader runs the schedule and rules of debate and the agenda for the majority party, working with the speaker and the whips to control the legislative process.

The leader of the minority party in the U.S. House is called the minority leader. For the 112th Congress it is the former speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California’s 8th District. The minority leader is the spokesperson and leader of the opposition to the speaker and the majority party.

The whips are the representatives that keep their party’s members informed and in line with their respective party’s agenda. They are the vote counters and communicators for the leadership. The majority whip is Kevin Mc-Carthy of California. The Democrats’ minority whip is former Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland. The Democratic Caucus of the 112th Congress created the position of assistant minority leader and elected James Clyburn of South Carolina to this new position. The role is as yet undefined, but preserves the leadership team from the 111th Congress. 

U.S. Senate Leadership

The Senate is constitutionally presided over by the vice president of the United States, but they only serve to break tie votes or during ceremonies. The role is currently filled by Joe Biden. The actual operation of the Senate is led by the Senate majority leader, and the minority leader heads the opposition or minority party. Both of these leaders are elected within their respective caucus during the organizational period between elections and the beginning of a new Congress. There is also the speaker pro tempore, or “pro tem,” the highest seniority senator of the majority party, but this is also basically a ceremonial duty, although the speaker pro tem is third in line of succession to the president.

The majority leader of the Senate is currently Harry Reid of Nevada. Sen. Reid has served Nevada as the lieutenant governor from 1970 until 1974, a U. S. representative of Las Vegas from 1982 to 1987, and U.S. senator since then. Reid was the minority leader from 2003 until the Democrats took the majority in 2006 and he assumed the majority leader position. The minority leader of the Senate is Addison
Mitchell (“Mitch”) McConnell of Kentucky. McConnell was first elected in 1984 by a razor-thin margin, beating incumbent Senator Dee Huddleston. McConnell became the leader of the Republican Caucus in 2006 when Democrats gained control and Republican leader Sen. Bill Frist didn’t seek re-election.

Just as in the U.S. House, the majority leader and the minority leader rely on whips for information and lining up their party members’ votes. The Senate majority whip for the 112th Congress is Richard Durbin of Illinois, who reports to Senate Majority Leader Reid of Nevada.

The Senate minority whip for the 112th Congress is Jon Kyl of Arizona, who reports to the Senate Minority Leader McConnell of Kentucky.