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Congressional Leadership Jobs Are Not Easy…And They Are Thankless

Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle do more behind the scenes than anyone would know – in part because their responsibilities are often less about press conferences (although they do many of them) and more about running the legislative branch, managing the work of their own caucuses, and activating a broader political network that actively seeks to keep their colleagues in Congress. These jobs come with some good perks – good real estate in the Capitol, for example – but they are tough jobs and, most of the time, thankless. Furthermore, everyone has a different metric for success for congressional leaders – most of which are impossible to meet – which is likely to reduce the tenure of leadership positions in the years to come. 

This week, alone, highlights the painful job congressional leaders are responsible for. Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’s effort to negotiate a bipartisan immigration bill (potentially the only way funding for Israel and Ukraine could move) was somewhat undercut by his more conservative members who then held a press conference calling for his resignation. On the House side, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) worked to advance two significant priorities of his members – funding for Israel and the impeachment of the Secretary of Homeland Security – and was forced to do so without compromising with his Democratic colleagues…both failed. 

There are a number of reasons why leadership seems harder now (on both sides of the aisle) than it has been in the past:          

Individual Members are Empowered: More so than ever before, individual members have a level on influence that is both unusual and somewhat difficult for leaders to manage. This is both the product of very thin majorities in the House and Senate, as well as increasing divisions within the caucuses.


Third Parties Have Increasing Influence Over Leadership Elections: Another new trend that is impacting leadership positions in Congress is the emerging focus third party organizations have around leadership elections. This creates a new dynamic that is tough to manage and even more difficult to answer to without alienating a sector of the caucus. 


Compromise Has Become Difficult: The days of leaders working closely together to ensure a smooth legislative process may be gone forever. Leaders from opposite sides of the aisle (and opposite ends of the Capitol) work less together and, in some cases, are punished for working with their counterparts. Given the need for bipartisanship to pass anything in the current landscape, the inability to compromise hamstrings any senior leader. 


Little Margin for Error: There is virtually no ability for a leader to lose members on a vote and still win the vote. Success, therefore, is very difficult to achieve. When leadership has a cushion of 30 votes, advancing legislation is almost formulaic. When that cushion reduces to 3, it becomes a delicate dance to say the least.


Congressional leaders have a tough 300+ days ahead of them with a big agenda, a big election, and big expectations among their respective caucuses. Without question, we have not seen the last call for current leadership to resign or public questioning of a leader’s tactics. It comes with the territory to some degree. But, this new leadership dynamic is even more painful and more thankless than what we have seen in the past…and might be the start of a trend.


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