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Conference Chair

Elisa Greenberg Ben Grove June 2, 2021

The House Democratic and Republican leaders who oversee their caucus’ messaging, meetings, and organization.

In the Heights

The Republican and Democratic conference chairs are among the highest-ranking officials in the House of Representatives, just behind the speaker, leaders, and whips. House Republicans and Democrats formalized the role of conference chair in the 1860s. Though the conference chair often works behind the scenes and must deal with intra-party tensions on policy and messaging, the role can be a springboard to higher leadership positions. Former Speaker Boehner (R-OH) served as Republican conference chair before becoming speaker, and Representative Clyburn (D-SC) was the Democratic conference chair before becoming Democratic whip.

In the Senate, the structure looks slightly different: Senator Schumer (D-NY) serves as both the Democratic leader and the conference chair, while Senator Barrasso (R-WY) chairs the Senate Republican Conference.

The Suicide Squad

One of the most public congressional leadership spats in recent memory occurred last month with the ouster of House Republican Conference Chair Cheney (R-WY). After becoming the most high-profile House Republican to vote for the impeachment of former President Trump in February 2021, she survived the first attempt to eject her from her third-ranking role in House Republican leadership: only 65 Republicans voted to remove her, while 145 voted for her to stay.

By May, however, the majority of the House Republican Conference had turned against her despite her conservative bona fides, angered by her continued outspokenness against the former president. On May 12, Cheney was removed from her role by an unrecorded voice vote and replaced by Trump loyalist Representative Stefanik (R-NY).

Respect

Stefanik will now serve as Republican conference chair through 2022 but has said she will not seek reelection. She has instead announced her intention to seek the top Republican spot on the House Education and Labor Committee in the next Congress; House Republican rules prohibit current Ranking Member Foxx (R-NC) from seeking another term atop that committee. Whether the next Republican conference chair election will be another clash between anti- and pro-Trump Republicans remains to be seen.

On the Democratic side, current Conference Chair Jeffries (D-NY) is widely regarded to be a leading successor to Speaker Pelosi (D-CA). Pelosi has hinted that this current term would be her last as speaker –  and potentially her last term in the House altogether. Regardless of what happens in 2022, House Democrats will soon see substantial changes in caucus leadership: the top three Democrats in the House are all octogenarians, and their eventual retirement will lead to a new generation of House Democrats competing for leadership positions.