- Republican Conference of the United States Senate
The Senate Republican Conference is the formal organization of the (currently) 49 Republican Senators in the
United States Senate. Over the last century, the mission of the Conference has expanded and been shaped as a means of informing the media of the opinions and activities of Senate Republicans. Today the Senate Republican Conference assists Republican Senators by providing a full range of communications services including graphics, radio, television, and the Internet. Its current Chairman is Senator Lamar Alexander[Kyl, Alexander Move Up in Senate GOP Leadership [http://www.cqpolitics.com/wmspage.cfm?docID=cqmidday-000002637667] ] , and its Vice Chairman is Senator John Cornyn.
The Republican Conference of the United States Senate is a descendant of the early American party caucus that decided party policies, approved appointees, and selected candidates. The meetings were private, and early records of the deliberations do not exist. Senate Republicans began taking formal minutes only in 1911, and they began referring to their organization as the "conference" in 1913. An early outgrowth of the effort to enhance party unity was the creation, in 1874, of a Steering Committee to prepare a legislative schedule for consideration by the Conference. The Committee became a permanent part of the Republican organization.
The Steering Committee, formalized Republican "leadership" in the 19th century was minimal; most legislative guidance came from powerful committee chairmen managing particular bills. The Conference began to acquire significance, however, with the election of Senator
William B. Allisonof Iowaas Chairman in 1897, and during the terms of successors such as Senator Orville H. Plattof Connecticutand Senator Nelson W. Aldrichof Rhode Island. The Chairman in 1915, Senator Jacob H. Gallingerof New Hampshire, who two years earlier had elected a whip to maintain a quorum to conduct Senate business. Senator James W. Wadsworth, Jr.of New Yorkwas elected both conference secretary and whip; a week later the responsibilities were divided between Senator Wadsworth as Secretary and Senator Charles Curtisof Kansas, who was elected whip.
The Conference continued to meet in private to assure confidentiality and candor. This practice was suspended only once, on May 27, 1919, when the Conference reaffirmed its commitment to the seniority system for choosing committee chairmen by electing Senator
Boies Penroseof Pennsylvaniaas Chairman of the Finance Committee over objections from Progressive Republican insurgents. (This was apparently the first and only open party conference in the history of the Senate.)
During this period, the Chairman also served as informal floor leader. One reason for the lack of a formal post was the fact that committee chairmen usually took responsibility to move to proceed to the consideration of measures reported by their respective committees and managed the legislation on the floor. The first recorded Conference election of a formal floor leader was held March 5, 1925, when the conference chairman, Senator Curtis of Kansas, was unanimously chosen to serve in both posts.
Throughout the 1920s, when Republicans held the Senate majority, the Conference met chiefly at the beginning of each session to make committee assignments; for the remainder of the session, Members were notified of the order of business by
Charles L. McNaryof Oregon, appointed Senators to serve as wWhip on particular pieces of legislation.
Senator McNary died in 1944, and the posts of conference chairman and floor leader were separated in 1945. Senator
Arthur H. Vandenbergof Michiganbecame Chairman and Senator Wallace H. White, Jr., of Mainebecame floor leader. This separation has continued to be one of the chief differences between the Republican and Democratic Conferences, since the floor leader of the Democrats has continued to serve as their Conference Chairman.
In 1944, Senator
Robert A. Taftof Ohio, still in his first term, persuaded Republicans to revive their Steering Committee, and he became its Chairman. In 1946, it became the Republican Policy Committee under legislation appropriating equal funds for majority and minority parties (a separate Steering Committee was created in 1974 but its operations are funded by member dues, not by Congress [ [http://www.cqpolitics.com/wmspage.cfm?docID=news-000002634626 cqpolitics.com] ] ). Until the mid-1970s the staffs of the Conference and Policy Committee were housed together under a single staff director who administered their budgets jointly. Staff separation was begun during 1979–1980, while Senator Bob Packwoodof Oregonwas Chairman of the Conference, and completed under Senator James McClureof Idaho. Under Senator McClure's leadership in the 1980s, the Conference began providing television, radio and graphics services for Republican Senators. Senator Connie Mack, as Conference Chairman, in 1997 created the first digital Information Technology department to communicate the Republican agenda over the web.
The form and frequency of Conference meetings has depended upon leadership personalities and legislative circumstances. Since the late 1950s, the Conference has met at the beginning of each
United States Congressto elect the leadership, approve committee assignments, and attend to other organizational matters. Although other meetings are called from time to time to discuss pending issues, the weekly Policy Committee luncheons afford a regular forum for discussion among Senators. As a former Republican Leader, Senator Everett M. Dirksenof Illinois, said in 1959: :When the Republican Policy Committee meets weekly, it is actually a meeting of the Republican Conference over the luncheon table, at which time we discuss all matters of pending business. Thus, so far as possible, all the information which is within the possession and the command of the leadership is freely diffused to every member.
At the time Senator Dirksen spoke, the elected party leadership included: Chairman of the Conference, Secretary of the Conference, Floor Leader, Whip (now Assistant Floor Leader), and Chairman of the Policy Committee. On July 31, 1980, Conference rules were amended to make the Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee an elected position, a change which brought the rules into conformity with what had become custom.
The Republican Conference has never been a caucus in the dictionary sense, that is, a "partisan legislative group that uses caucus procedures to make decisions binding on its members." Even during the tense years of Reconstruction, Republican Senators were not bound to vote according to Conference decisions. In 1867, for example, when Senator
Charles Sumnerof Massachusettsrefused to follow Conference policy on an issue, and Senator William P. Fessendenof Mainecharged, "you should not have voted on the subject [in Conference] if you did not mean to be bound by the decision of the majority," Sumner retorted, "I am a Senator of the United States," and no attempt was made to discipline him. Such independence was reiterated on March 12, 1925, when a resolution introduced by Senator Wesley L. Jonesof Washingtonpassed in the Conference without objection:
:To make clear and beyond question the long-settled policy of Republicans that our Conferences are not caucuses or of binding effect upon those participating therein but are meetings solely for the purpose of exchanging views to promote harmony and united action so far as possible.
:Be It Resolved: That no Senator attending this Conference or any Conference held hereafter shall be deemed to be bound in any way by any action taken by such Conference, but he shall be entirely free to act upon any matter considered by the Conference as his judgment may dictate, and it shall not be necessary for any Senator to give notice of his intention to take action different from any recommended by the Conference."
List of conference chairmen and chairwomen
John P. Hale(NH)
Henry B. Anthony(RI)
*John Sherman (OH)
*George Edmunds (VT)
*John Sherman (OH)
William B. Allison(IA)
Jacob H. Gallinger(NH)
Henry Cabot Lodge(MA)
Charles Curtis(KS) [Republican senators elected Charles Curtisof Kansas as conference chairman on November 28, 1924, and as their first floor leader on March 5, 1925. Curtis, James Watson, and Charles McNaryall served in dual roles as conference chairmen and party floor leaders. In 1945, the two positions were separated, with Arthur Vandenberg becoming conference chairman while Wallace H. White, Jr.became Republican party floor leader. The positions have remained separated.]
James E. Watson(IN) "(Also served as Republican floor leader)"
Charles L. McNary(OR) "(Also served as Republican floor leader)"
Arthur H. Vandenberg(MI)
Eugene D. Millikin(CO)
Margaret Chase Smith(ME)
Carl T. Curtis(NE)
James A. McClure(ID)
William Thad Cochran(MS)
*Connie Mack (FL)
Richard J. Santorum(PA)
* [http://www.senate.gov/src/about/index.cfm About the Senate Republican Conference] -- The content of this article was derived from this public domain resource.
* [http://www.senate.gov/reference/common/generic/party_leadership.htm Information on Senate party leadership]
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