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What is a Floor Leader?

Mike Howells
Mike Howells

In politics, a floor leader is a member of a legislative caucus elected by his colleagues to represent them in an official capacity. This can be on the floor of the chamber, in private negotiations, and before the press. In a two-party system, and primarily in American government, both the majority and minority parties elect their own floor leader.

A floor leader serves as the head of his side's legislative leadership team. This team can also include a caucus whip, caucus secretary, caucus administrator, appropriations committee chairman, and policy committee chairman. In the U.S. House of Representatives it may also include a Speaker of the House, who is elected by the majority and moderates debate and voting.

Each party of Congress elects floor leaders for the House of Representatives and Senate.
Each party of Congress elects floor leaders for the House of Representatives and Senate.

Virtually all U.S. state legislatures have now adopted similar legislative leadership models. In other countries, similar roles are filled, though the positions may have different names. In England, for instance, leaders of the minority party have the moniker shadow added before their titles.

Though not written into the U.S. Constitution, members of both the early Senate and House of Representatives encountered the need to elect a spokesman to represent them during floor debate. At the federal level, the first floor leaders were elected around the turn of the 20th century, and officially recognized in the 1920s. Before that time, the heads of the national party, as well as the chairs of the most powerful committees, usually unofficially led proceedings on the floor.

Floor leaders, along with the other leadership positions, are elected at the beginning of each legislative session. Those elected serve for the rest of the session, and, as long as an individual keeps getting re-elected, there is generally no limit to how long he may serve in any leadership capacity.

A floor leader has a number of official duties related to the legislative process. The majority floor leader ultimately decides what bills to run, and in which order. He typically has the final word on which bills are moved through committee, and, on the floor of the House or Senate, is given preference over other members when speaking.

Though their exact rules differ, in both the House and Senate there is typically a strict order in which lawmakers may speak on the floor. Generally, the majority leader speaks first, followed by the minority leader, the sponsors of the bill under consideration, followed by anyone else. In speaking first, the majority floor leader therefore has the right to offer amendments and other initial motions related to the legislation, and can guide the flow of debate.

Beyond their official responsibilities, floor leaders also have a number of duties that are carried out in an informal capacity. These can include fund-raising and appearances before the press. These officials also typically give their input on decisions regarding committee chair appointments and the like.

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    • Each party of Congress elects floor leaders for the House of Representatives and Senate.
      By: vlad_g
      Each party of Congress elects floor leaders for the House of Representatives and Senate.