Whip, Party

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WHIP, PARTY. The term "party whip" refers to a high-ranking member of the U.S. congressional leadership for both the majority and minority parties. In American politics of the early twenty-first century, the party whip was an increasingly active and influential party leader in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

In the House the party whip ranks immediately below the Speaker, who is the majority leader (if in the minority party, the whip is second behind the minority leader); in the Senate the whip is second in the party hierarchy behind the majority (or minority) leader. The whip's duties are to make sure that members are in Washington, D.C., and in the chamber during crucial votes; to forecast how members will vote; to persuade members to support the party leadership; to alert party leaders to shifting congressional opinions; and, occasionally, to distribute information on pending amendments or bills. Party whips usually attend important leadership meetings, including conferences with the president.

Party whips have been used in the British House of Commons since 1688 but were not employed in the U.S. Congress until 1899. Since the early 1960s the job of whip, although a party office, has become formalized, with offices, automobiles, staff, and office supplies, all paid for with public funds. Democratic and Republican parties in the House and Senate use differing methods of choosing whips and their assistants, but geography and party loyalty are important considerations. The post of party whip sometimes becomes a stepping-stone to a higher congressional party office.

In 2002, party whips were Tom DeLay (Republican majority) of Texas and Nancy Pelosi (Democrat minority) of California in the House and Harry Reid (Democrat majority) of Nevada and Don Nickles (Republican minority) of Oklahoma in the Senate. Pelosi was the first female party whip in congressional history.


Polsby, Nelson W., ed. Congressional Behavior. New York: Random House, 1971.

Ripley, Randall B. Majority Party Leadership in Congress. Boston: Little, Brown, 1969.

Wise, Charles R. The Dynamics of Legislation: Leadership and Policy Change in the Congressional Process. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, 1991.

D. B.Hardeman/a. g.

See alsoBlocs ; Caucuses, Congressional ; Congressional Record ; Delegation of Powers ; Implied Powers ; Majority Rule ; Rules of the House .