Senate Republican Conference

The Senate Republican Conference is the formal organization of the Republican Senators in the United States Senate, who currently number 50. 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 John Barrasso,[1] and its Vice Chairwoman is currently Senator Joni Ernst.[1][2][3]

Senate Republican Conference
Part ofUnited States Senate
Floor LeaderMitch McConnell (KY)
Floor WhipJohn Thune (SD)
ChairJohn Barrasso (WY)
Vice ChairJoni Ernst (IA)
Political positionRight-wing
AffiliationRepublican Party
Colors  Red
50 / 100

Current hierarchyEdit

Effective as of February 1, 2020, the conference leadership is as follows:


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. Allison of Iowa as Chairman in 1897, and during the terms of successors such as Senator Orville H. Platt of Connecticut and Senator Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island. The chairman in 1915, Senator Jacob H. Gallinger of 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 York was elected both conference secretary and whip; a week later the responsibilities were divided between Senator Wadsworth as Secretary and Senator Charles Curtis of 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 Penrose of Pennsylvania as chairman of the finance committee over objections from Progressive Republican insurgents. (This was apparently the 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 mail. This slow pace continued through the 1930s, when Republican Senators were so few that they dispensed with a permanent whip, and the conference chairman and floor leader, Senator Charles L. McNary of Oregon, appointed Senators to serve as whip 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. Vandenberg of Michigan became chairman and Senator Wallace H. White, Jr., of Maine became 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. Taft of 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[4]). 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 Packwood of Oregon was chairman of the conference, and completed under Senator James McClure of 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.

Meetings of Republican ConferenceEdit

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 Congress to 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. Dirksen of 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.

"Conference" versus "Caucus"Edit

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 Sumner of Massachusetts refused to follow conference policy on an issue, and Senator William P. Fessenden of Maine charged, "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. Jones of Washington passed 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."

Floor LeadersEdit

Dates Senator State
November 28, 1924 – March 4, 1929 Charles Curtis Kansas
March 4, 1929 – March 3, 1933 James Eli Watson Indiana
March 4, 1933 – January 3, 1940 Charles L. McNary Oregon
January 3, 1940 – January 3, 1941 Warren Austin (Acting) Vermont
January 3, 1941 – February 25, 1944 Charles L. McNary Oregon
February 25, 1944 - January 3, 1949 Wallace H. White Jr. Maine
January 3, 1949 – November 29, 1951 Kenneth S. Wherry Nebraska
January 8, 1952 – January 3, 1953 Styles Bridges New Hampshire
January 3, 1953 – July 31, 1953 Robert A. Taft Ohio
August 4, 1953 - January 3, 1959 William Knowland California
January 3, 1959 – September 7, 1969 Everett Dirksen Illinois
September 6, 1969 – January 3, 1977 Hugh Scott Pennsylvania
January 3, 1977 – November 1, 1979 Howard Baker Tennessee
November 1, 1979 – March 5, 1980 Ted Stevens (Acting) Alaska
March 5, 1980 – January 3, 1985 Howard Baker Tennessee
January 3, 1985 – June 11, 1996 Bob Dole Kansas
June 12, 1996 – January 3, 2003 Trent Lott Mississippi
January 3, 2003 – January 3, 2007 Bill Frist Tennessee
January 3, 2007 – Present Mitch McConnell Kentucky

List of conference chairmen and chairwomenEdit

The Republican conference of the United States Senate chooses a conference chairperson. The office was created in the mid-19th century with the founding of the Republican party. The office of "party floor leader" was not created until 1925, and for twenty years, the Senate's Republican conference chairman was also the floor leader.

In recent years, the conference chair has come to be regarded as the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, behind the floor leader and whip. According to Congressional Quarterly, "The conference chairman manages the private meetings to elect floor leaders, handles distribution of committee assignments and helps set legislative priorities. The modern version drives the conference’s message, with broadcast studios for television and radio."[5]

Dates Name State Notes
1859 – December 1862 John P. Hale New Hampshire
December 1862 – September 2, 1884 Henry B. Anthony Rhode Island
September 2, 1884 – December 1885 John Sherman Ohio
December 1885 – November 1, 1891 George F. Edmunds Vermont
December 1891 – March 4, 1897 John Sherman Ohio
March 4, 1897 – August 4, 1908 William B. Allison Iowa
December 1908 – March 4, 1911 Eugene Hale Maine
April 1911 – March 4, 1913 Shelby Moore Cullom Illinois
March 4, 1913 – August 17, 1918 Jacob Harold Gallinger New Hampshire
August 17, 1918 – November 9, 1924 Henry Cabot Lodge Massachusetts
November 28, 1924 – March 4, 1929 Charles Curtis Kansas Also Republican floor leader from 1925
March 4, 1929 – March 4, 1933 James Eli Watson Indiana Also Republican floor leader
March 4, 1933 – February 25, 1944 Charles L. McNary Oregon Also Republican floor leader
February 25, 1944 – January 3, 1947
Acting: February 25, 1944 – January 3, 1945
Arthur Vandenberg Michigan
January 3, 1947 – January 3, 1957 Eugene Millikin Colorado
January 3, 1957 – January 3, 1967 Leverett Saltonstall Massachusetts
January 3, 1967 – January 3, 1973 Margaret Chase Smith Maine
January 3, 1973 – January 3, 1975 Norris Cotton New Hampshire
January 3, 1975 – January 3, 1979 Carl Curtis Nebraska
January 3, 1979 – January 3, 1981 Bob Packwood Oregon
January 3, 1981 – January 3, 1985 James A. McClure Idaho
January 3, 1985 – January 3, 1991 John Chafee Rhode Island
January 3, 1991 – January 3, 1997 Thad Cochran Mississippi
January 3, 1997 – January 3, 2001 Connie Mack III Florida
January 3, 2001 – January 3, 2007 Rick Santorum Pennsylvania
January 3, 2007 – December 19, 2007 Jon Kyl Arizona
December 19, 2007 – January 26, 2012 Lamar Alexander Tennessee
January 26, 2012 – January 3, 2019 John Thune South Dakota
January 3, 2019 – present John Barrasso Wyoming

List of Secretary and Vice ChairmanEdit

The Vice Chair of the Senate Republican Conference, also known previously as the Conference Secretary until 2001, is the fifth-ranking leadership position (behind the Policy Committee chair) within the Republican Party conference in the United States Senate. The vice-chair/secretary is responsible for keeping the minutes of the Senate Republican Conference, and serves alongside the Senate Republican Conference Chairperson. The current vice chairwoman is Joni Ernst, serving since 2019.[6]

Officeholder State Term
Charles Curtis Kansas 1911–1913
William Kenyon Iowa 1913–1915
James Wadsworth New York 1915–1927
Frederick Hale Maine 1927–1941
Wallace H. White Jr. Maine 1941–1944
Harold Burton Ohio 1944–1945
Chan Gurney South Dakota 1945–1946
Milton Young North Dakota 1946–1971
Norris Cotton New Hampshire 1971–1973
Wallace F. Bennett Utah 1973–1975
Robert Stafford Vermont 1975–1977
Clifford Hansen Wyoming 1977–1976
Jake Garn Utah 1979–1985
Thad Cochran Mississippi 1985–1991
Bob Kasten Wisconsin 1991–1993
Trent Lott Mississippi 1993–1995
Connie Mack Florida 1995–1997
Paul Coverdell Georgia 1997–2000
Kay Bailey Hutchison[7] Texas 2001–2007
John Cornyn Texas 2007–2009
John Thune South Dakota 2009
Lisa Murkowski Alaska 2009–2010
John Barrasso Wyoming 2010–2012
Roy Blunt Missouri 2012–2019
Joni Ernst Iowa 2019–present



  1. ^ a b Blunt wins Senate GOP leadership post [1][dead link]
  2. ^ Bolton, Alexander. "McConnell reelected as leader, Thune promoted to whip". The Hill. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  3. ^ Bolton, Alexander. "Ernst elected to Senate GOP leadership". The Hill. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  4. ^ "". Archived from the original on 2008-11-04. Retrieved 2007-12-03.
  5. ^ "". Archived from the original on 2008-11-04. Retrieved 2007-12-03.
  6. ^ "U.S. Senate: Republican Conference Secretaries/Vice Chairpersons". Retrieved 2020-06-03.
  7. ^ Position known as Vice Chair from here on.

External linksEdit