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Majority and Minority Leaders



Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Majority and Minority Leaders
Chapter 3: Complete List of Majority and Minority Leaders
Chapter 4: Longest-Serving Party Leaders

Introduction

The positions of party floor leaders are not included in the Constitution but developed gradually in the 20th century. The first floor leaders were formally designated in 1920 (Democrats) and 1925 (Republicans).

The Senate Republican and Democratic floor leaders are elected by the members of their party in the Senate at the beginning of each Congress. Depending on which party is in power, one serves as majority leader and the other as minority leader. The leaders serve as spokespersons for their party's positions on issues. The majority leader schedules the daily legislative program and fashions the unanimous consent agreements that govern the time for debate.

The majority leader has the right to be called upon first if several senators are seeking recognition by the presiding officer, which enables him to offer motions or amendments before any other senator.

Majority and Minority Leaders

Elected at the beginning of each Congress by members of their respective party conferences to represent them on the Senate floor, the majority and minority leaders serve as spokesmen for their parties' positions on the issues. The majority leader has also come to speak for the Senate as an institution. Working with the committee chairs and ranking members, the majority leader schedules business on the floor by calling bills from the calendar and keeps members of his party advised about the daily legislative program. In consultation with the minority leader, the majority leader fashions unanimous consent agreements by which the Senate limits the amount of time for debate and divides that time between the parties. When time limits cannot be agreed on, the majority leader might file for cloture to shut off debate. Occupying the front desks on the center aisle, the two leaders coordinate party strategy and try to keep their parties united on roll-call votes.

The leaders spend much of their time on or near the Senate floor, to open the day's proceedings, keep legislation moving, and protect the rights and interests of party members. When several senators are seeking recognition at the same time, the presiding officer in the Senate will call on the majority leader first, then on the minority leader, and then on the managers of the bill being debated, in that order. This right of first recognition enables the majority leader to offer amendments, substitutes, and motions to reconsider before any other senator. Former majority leader Robert C. Byrd called first recognition "the most potent weapon in the Majority Leader's arsenal."

The posts of majority and minority leader are not included in the Constitution, as are the president of the Senate (the vice president of the United States) and the president pro tempore. Instead, party floor leadership evolved out of necessity. During the 19th century, floor leadership was exercised by the chair of the party conference and the chairs of the most powerful standing committees. In 1913, to help enact President Woodrow Wilson's ambitious legislative program, Democratic Conference chairman John Worth Kern of Indiana began functioning along the lines of the modern majority leader. In 1919, when Republicans returned to the majority, Republican Conference chairman Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., also acted as floor leader. Not until 1925 did Republicans officially designate Senator Charles Curtis of Kansas as majority leader, separate from the conference chair. (Five years earlier, the Democrats had specifically named Oscar Underwood of Alabama as minority leader.)

Although party floor leadership posts carry great responsibility, they provide few specific powers. Instead, floor leaders have largely had to depend on their individual skill, intelligence, and personality. Majority leaders seek to balance the needs of senators of both parties to express their views fully on a bill with the pressures to move the bill as quickly as possible toward enactment. These conflicting demands have required majority leaders to develop skills in compromise, accommodation, and diplomacy. Lyndon Johnson, who held the post in the 1950s, once said that the greatest power of the majority leader was "the power of persuasion."

The majority leader usually works closely with the minority leader so that, as Senator Bob Dole explained, "we never surprise each other on the floor." The party leaders meet frequently with the president and with the leaders of the House of Representatives. The majority leader also greets foreign dignitaries visiting the Capitol.

Complete List of Majority and Minority Leaders
CongressMajority LeaderMinority Leader
1919_192166th Congress (1919–1921)1 UnderwoodOscar W. Underwood (D-AL)
1921_192367th Congress (1921–1923) 2 UnderwoodOscar W. Underwood (D-AL)
1923_192568th Congress (1923–1925) RobinsonJoseph T. Robinson (D-AR)
1925_192769th Congress (1925–1927)3 CurtisCharles Curtis (R-KS) RobinsonJoseph T. Robinson (D-AR)
1927_192870th Congress (1927–1928) CurtisCharles Curtis (R-KS) 4 RobinsonJoseph T. Robinson (D-AR)
1929_193171st Congress (1929–1931) WatsonJames E. Watson (R-IN) 5 RobinsonJoseph T. Robinson (D-AR)
1931_193372nd Congress (1931—1933) WatsonJames E. Watson (R-IN) 6 RobinsonJoseph T. Robinson (D-AR)
1933_193573rd Congress (1933–1935) RobinsonJoseph T. Robinson (D-AR) McNaryCharles L. McNary (R-OR) 7
1935_193774th Congress (1935–1937) RobinsonJoseph T. Robinson (D-AR) McNaryCharles L. McNary (R-OR)
1937_193975th Congress (1937–1939) RobinsonJoseph T. Robinson (D-AR)
BarkleyAlben W. Barkley (D-KY) 8
McNaryCharles L. McNary (R-OR)
1939_194176th Congress (1939–1941) BarkleyAlben W. Barkley (D-KY) McNaryCharles L. McNary (R-OR) 9
1941_194377th Congress (1941–1943) BarkleyAlben W. Barkley (D-KY) McNaryCharles L. McNary (R-OR)
1943_194578th Congress (1943–1945) BarkleyAlben W. Barkley (D-KY) WhiteWallace H. White, Jr. (R-ME) 10
1945_194779th Congress (1945–1947) BarkleyAlben W. Barkley (D-KY) WhiteWallace H. White, Jr. (R-ME)
1947_194980th Congress (1947–1949) WhiteWallace H. White, Jr. (R-ME) BarkleyAlben W. Barkley (D-KY) 11
1949_195181st Congress (1949–1951) LucasScott W. Lucas (D-IL) 12 WherryKenneth S. Wherry (R-NE)
1951_195382nd Congress (1951–1953)13 McFarlandErnest W. McFarland (D-AZ) WherryKenneth S. Wherry (R-NE)
BridgesStyles Bridges (R-NH)
1953_195583rd Congress (1953–1955)14 TaftRobert Taft, Jr. (R-OH)
KnowlandWilliam F. Knowland (R-CA)
JohnsonLyndon B. Johnson (D-TX)
1955_195784th Congress (1955–1957) JohnsonLyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) KnowlandWilliam F. Knowland (R-CA)
1957_195985th Congress (1957–1959) JohnsonLyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) KnowlandWilliam F. Knowland (R-CA) 15
1959_196186th Congress (1959-1961) JohnsonLyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) 16 DirksenEverett M. Dirksen (R-IL)
1961_196387th Congress (1961–1963) MansfieldMike Mansfield (D-MT) 17 DirksenEverett M. Dirksen (R-IL)
1963_196588th Congress (1963–1965) MansfieldMike Mansfield (D-MT) DirksenEverett M. Dirksen (R-IL)
1965_196789th Congress (1965–1967) MansfieldMike Mansfield (D-MT) DirksenEverett M. Dirksen (R-IL)
1967_196990th Congress (1967–1969) MansfieldMike Mansfield (D-MT) DirksenEverett M. Dirksen (R-IL)
1969_197191st Congress (1969–1971) MansfieldMike Mansfield (D-MT) DirksenEverett M. Dirksen (R-IL)
ScottHugh D. Scott, Jr. (R-PA) 18
1971_197392nd Congress (1971–1973) MansfieldMike Mansfield (D-MT) ScottHugh D. Scott, Jr. (R-PA)
1973_197593rd Congress (1973–1975) MansfieldMike Mansfield (D-MT) ScottHugh D. Scott, Jr. (R-PA)
1975_197794th Congress (1975–1977)19 MansfieldMike Mansfield (D-MT) ScottHugh D. Scott, Jr. (R-PA)
1977_197995th Congress (1977–1979)20 ByrdRobert C. Byrd (D-WV) BakerHoward H. Baker, Jr. (R-TN)
1979_198196th Congress (1979–1981) ByrdRobert C. Byrd (D-WV) BakerHoward H. Baker, Jr. (R-TN)
1981_198397th Congress (1981–1983) BakerHoward H. Baker, Jr. (R-TN) ByrdRobert C. Byrd (D-WV)
1983_198598th Congress (1983–1985)21 BakerHoward H. Baker, Jr. (R-TN) ByrdRobert C. Byrd (D-WV)
1985_198799th Congress (1985–1987) DoleRobert J. Dole (R-KS) 22 ByrdRobert C. Byrd (D-WV)
1987_1989100th Congress (1987–1989) ByrdRobert C. Byrd (D-WV) 23 DoleRobert J. Dole (R-KS)
1989_1991101st Congress (1989–1991) MitchellGeorge J. Mitchell (D-ME) 24 DoleRobert J. Dole (R-KS)
1991_1993102nd Congress (1991–1993) MitchellGeorge J. Mitchell (D-ME) 24 DoleRobert J. Dole (R-KS)
1993_1995103rd Congress (1993–1995) MitchellGeorge J. Mitchell (D-ME) 25 DoleRobert J. Dole (R-KS)
1995_1997104th Congress (1995–1997)26 DoleRobert J. Dole (R-KS) DaschleThomas A. Daschle (D-SD)
1997_1999105th Congress (1997–1999) LottTrent Lott (R-MS) DaschleThomas A. Daschle (D-SD)
1999_2001106th Congress (1999–2001) LottTrent Lott (R-MS) DaschleThomas A. Daschle (D-SD)
1999_2001107th Congress (2001–2003)27 DaschleThomas A. Daschle (D-SD) LottTrent Lott (R-MS)
2003_2005108th Congress (2003–2005) FristWilliam H. Frist (R-TN) DaschleThomas A. Daschle (D-SD) 28
2005_2007109th Congress (2005–2007) FristWilliam H. Frist (R-TN) 29 ReidHarry Reid (D-NV)
2007_2009110th Congress (2007–2009) ReidHarry Reid (D-NV) McConnellMitch McConnell (R-KY)
2009_2011111th Congress (2009–2011) ReidHarry Reid (D-NV) McConnellMitch McConnell (R-KY)
2011_2013112th Congress (2011–2013) ReidHarry Reid (D-NV) McConnellMitch McConnell (R-KY)
2013_2015113th Congress (2013–2015) ReidHarry Reid (D-NV) McConnellMitch McConnell (R-KY)
2015_2017114th Congress (2015–2017) McConnellMitch McConnell (R-KY) ReidHarry Reid (D-NV) 30
2017_2019115th Congress (2017–2019) McConnellMitch McConnell (R-KY) 31 SchumerCharles E. Schumer (D-NY)
2019_2021116th Congress (2019–2021) McConnellMitch McConnell (R-KY) 31 SchumerCharles E. Schumer (D-NY)

1 Oscar W. Underwood became the first elected party leader on April 27, 1920. There was no elected Republican floor leader prior to 1925. During the 66th Congress, Henry Cabot Lodge (R-MA) was the party conference chairman and served as an unofficial party leader.

2 Henry Cabot Lodge (R-MA) continued to serve as unofficial Republican leader.

3 Henry Cabot Lodge (R-MA) died on November 9, 1924. Charles Curtis was elected Republican floor leader on March 5, 1925. The Democratic party elected Joseph T. Robinson as floor leader on December 3, 1923.

4 Charles Curtis resigned his Senate seat on March 3, 1929, having been elected vice president of the United States.

5 James E. Watson was elected Republican leader on March 5, 1929.

6 James E. Watson lost his reelection bin in 1932 and left office on March 3, 1933.

7 Charles L. McNary was reelected Republican leader on March 7, 1933.

8 Joseph T. Robinson died on July 14, 1937. Alben Barkley was elected Democratic leader on July 22, 1937.

9 In 1940, at the request of Senator McNary, Senator Warren R. Austin (R-VT) served as acting leader.

10 Although Charles McNary continued to be officially listed as minority leader until his death on February 25, 1944, Wallace H. White, Jr. served as acting leader during McNary's illness and was elected Republican leader on January 4, 1945. He retired from the Senate on January 3, 1949.

11 Alben Barkley resigned his Senate seat on January 19, 1949, having been elected vice president of the United States.

12 Scott W. Lucas was elected Democratic leader on December 31, 1948, to be in effect on January 20, 1949. Lucas lost his bid for reelection in 1950 and left office on January 3, 1951. Kenneth W. Wherry was elected Republican leader on January 3, 1949.

13 Ernest W. McFarland was elected Democratic leader on January 2, 1951. He lost his bid for reelection in 1952, and left office on January 3, 1953. Kenneth Wherry died on November 29, 1951. Styles Bridges was elected Republican leader on January 8, 1952. He chose not to continue as party leader in the 83rd Congress, instead of becoming president pro tempore and chair of the Committee on Appropriations.

14 Robert Taft was elected Republican leader on January 2, 1953. He died the following July 31. William Knowland was elected Republican leader on August 4, 1953. Lyndon Johnson was elected Democratic leader on January 2, 1953. William Knowland was the youngest majority leader in Senate history, having been elected to the position at the age of 45 years old. Johnson was the youngest Democratic floor leader.

15 William Knowland retired from the Senate at the end of the 85th Congress.

16 Lyndon Johnson resigned his Senate seat on January 3, 1961, having been elected vice president of the United States. Everett Dirksen was elected Republican leader on January 7, 1959.

17 Mike Mansfield was elected Democratic leader on January 3, 1961, and served until January 3, 1977, making him the longest-serving majority leader in Senate history.

18 Everett Dirksen died on September 7, 1969. Hugh Scott was elected Republican leader on September 24, 1969.

19 Mike Mansfield and Hugh Scott both retired from the Senate at the end of the 94th Congress.

20 Robert C. Byrd was elected Democratic leader on January 4, 1977. Howard H. Baker, Jr., was elected Republican leader on January 4, 1977.

21 Howard Baker Retired from the Senate at the end of the 98th Congress.

22 Robert Dole was elected Republican leader on November 28, 1984, effective January 3, 1985.

23 Robert Byrd resigned as majority leader to become chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations in the 101st Congress and was elected president pro tempore on January 3, 1989.

24 George Mitchell was elected Democratic leader on November 29, 1988, effective January 3, 1989.

25 George Mitchell retired from the Senate at the end of the 103rd Congress.

26 On December 22, 1995, Senator Robert Dole broke Charles McNary's record as longest-serving Republican leader, having served since January 3, 1985, ten years, eleven months and nine days. Dole resigned from the Senate on June 11, 1996, to devote time to his presidential campaign. Trent Lott was elected Republican leader on June 12, 1996. Thomas Daschle was elected Democratic leader on December 2, 1994.

27 From January 3 to January 20, 2001, with the Senate divided evenly between the two parties, the Democrats held the majority due to the deciding vote of outgoing Democratic Vice President Al Gore. Senator Thomas A. Daschle served as majority leader at that time. Beginning on January 20, 2001, Republican Vice President Richard Cheney held the deciding vote, giving the majority to the Republicans. Senator Trent Lott resumed his position as majority leader on that date. On May 24, 2001, Senator James Jeffords of Vermont announced his switch from Republican to Independent status, effective June 6, 2001. He announced that he would caucus with the Democrats, giving the party a one-seat advantage and changing control of the Senate back to the Democrats. Thomas A. Daschle again became majority leader on June 6, 2001. Trent Lott announced on December 20, 2002, that he would not continue as Republican leader in the 108th Congress. William Frist was elected Republican leader on December 23, 2002 and began service on January 7, 2003.

28 Senator Thomas Daschle lost his reelection bid on November 2, 2004, and retired from the Senate on January 3, 2005. Democratic Whip Harry M. Reid was elected to the post for the 109th Congress.

29 Senator William Frist retired from the Senate on January 3, 2007. Republican Whip Mitch McConnell was elected to the post of Republican Leader on November 15, 2006, for the 110th Congress.

30 Senator Harry Reid retired from the Senate on January 3, 2017. Democratic Conference Committee Vice Chair and Policy Committee Chair Charles E. Schumer was elected to the post of Democratic Leader on November 16, 2016, for the 115th Congress.

31 On June 12, 2018, Senator Mitch McConnell broke Senator Robert Dole's record as longest-serving Republican leader, having served since January 3, 2007, for a total of 11 years, 5 months, and 10 days (or 4,179 days).

Longest-Serving Party Leaders
SenatorYearsSenate ServiceParty LeaderMajority LeaderMinority Leader
MansfieldMike Mansfield (D-MT) 16 1953-1977 1961-1977 1961-1977
McConnellMitch McConnell (R-KY) 14 1985-present 2007-present 2015-present 2007-2015
RobinsonJoseph T. Robinson (D-AR) 13.5 1913-1937 1923-1937 1933-1937 1923-1933
ByrdRobert C. Byrd (D-WV) 12 1959-2010 1977-1989 1977-1981
1987-1989
1981-1987
BarkleyAlben W. Barkley (D-KY) 12 1927-1949
1955-1956
1937-1949 1937-1947 1947-1949
ReidHarry Reid (D-NV) 12 1987-2017 2005-2017 2007-2015 2005-2007
2015-2017
DoleRobert J. Dole (R-KS) 11.5 1969-1996 1985-1996 1985-1987
1995-1996
1987-1995
McNaryCharles L. McNary (R-OR) 11 1917-1944 1933-1944 1933-1944
DirksenEverett M. Dirksen (R-IL) 10 1951-1969 1959-1969 1959-1969
DaschleThomas A. Daschle (D-SD) 10 1987-2005 1995-2005 2001-2003 1995-2001
2003-2005
BakerHoward H. Baker, Jr. (R-TN) 8 1967-1985 1977-1985 1981-1985 1977-1981
JohnsonLyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) 8 1949-1961 1953-1961 1955-1961 1953-1955
ScottHugh D. Scott, Jr. (R-PA) 8 1959-1977 1969-1977 1969-1977
LottTrent Lott (R-MS) 6.5 1989-2007 1996-2003 1996-2001 2001-2003
MitchellGeorge J. Mitchell (D-ME) 6 1980-1995 1989-1995 1989-1995
Sources:

U.S. Congress.  Senate.  Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate, by Floyd M. Riddick, S. Doc 100-29, 100th Congress, 2d session, 1988.

Byrd, Robert C. The Senate, 1789-1989: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate. Volume II (Washington: U.S. GPO, 1991).

Baker, Richard A. and Roger H. Davidson, eds.  First Among Equals: Outstanding Senate Leaders of the Twentieth Century (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1991).

U.S. Congress. Senate. Minutes of the Senate Republican Conference: Sixty-second Congress through Eighty-eighth Congress, 1911-1964, edited by Wendy Wolff and Donald A. Ritchie. Washington: GPO, 1999, Senate Document 105-19.

U.S. Congress. Senate. Minutes of the Senate Democratic Conference: Fifty-eighth through Eighty-eighth Congresses, 1903-1964, edited by Donald A. Ritchie. Washington, GPO, 1999. Senate Document 105-20.

Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress