Who Steers the Ship? An Examination of House Steering and Policy Committee Membership

House Democrats and Republicans use internal party committees to control major aspects of the legislative process, including choosing who gets to serve on legislative committees. As we all know, personnel is policy.

Under the House rules, each party decides committee assignments for its members. As a result, the steering and policy committees are the scene of intraparty jockeying for power. With a large number of members competing for a relatively small number of key committee assignments and leadership roles, the parties’ respective steering committees act as a filter for who will rise and a sorting mechanism among the party’s internal factions. It is also a mechanism by which leadership taxes members to provide financial contributions in support of the party.

House Democrats
House Democrats have a combined steering and policy committee. It has six classes of members. Last week, House Democrats published the rules for the steering and policy committee, helping to provide a much clearer picture of how Members are elected to internal positions. Not too much changed, other than the addition of Rule #42, which supports greater diversity hiring in Democratic congressional offices. You can compare the differences between the 115th and 116th caucus rules here.

The first class are the steering committee chair, co-chairs (3) and vice-chairs (3). Co-chairs are elected by the members; vice-chairs are appointed by the chair.

The second class are the caucus political apparatus. This includes the policy chair, co-chair, and vice-chairs (2); the caucus co-chairs (3); the democratic whip and assistant to the democratic leader; the caucus chair, vice chair, DCCC chair, caucus leadership rep, and freshman rep. Some of these positions are chosen by the members, others by the steering committee chair (i.e. the Speaker).

The third class are the whips. It’s led by the Senior Deputy Whip, with 8 chief deputy whips. The people serving in these positions almost never change, despite Rule #10 stating, “No Member shall be appointed or elected to more than two consecutive terms.”

The fourth class are the regional reps, and there are 12 of them. They are elected by regions.

The fifth class are a handful of committee chairs — appropriations, budget, energy and commerce, financial services, rules, ways and means. Plus the organizational study and review chair and the freshmen rep. These positions are composed largely of people nominated by the steering committee itself.

The sixth class are members appointed by the Democratic leader (i.e., the Speaker), and there are a lot of them — 15 this Congress.

What’s notable about these fifty-something Members is how many of them are chosen directly or indirectly by the Democratic leader. There is no question Speaker Pelosi dominates the steering and policy committee. Per the rules, the committee has its own secret rules separate from the caucus rules, but we have never seen them.

In addition, a handful of members in the caucus routinely hold key positions inside the steering committee. You can literally watch them as they move up the ladder over multiple Congresses. You can watch as they are groomed as freshmen, move up, get booted if they don’t toe the line, and eventually rotate among the different leadership positions

The membership is relatively static. Key current Democratic Members include Reps. Pelosi, DeLauro, Hoyer, Waters, Lewis, DeGette, Wasserman Schultz, Schakowsky, and Welch. We have looked for a list of all Steering Committee members, but there’s no public list for the 116th Congress and we have not yet had our request for the list fulfilled by its leadership.

The compiled list is here and is also embedded below:

House Republicans
House Republicans have traditionally been more forthcoming with some basic information about how their conference works, including posting its rules online as well as a list of its steering committee members.

Republican steering committee membership is more compact than Democrats, but also can be broken out into four classes.

The first class is party leadership. It includes the Speaker (when they hold the House Majority), the Republican Leader, the Republican Whip, and the Chief Deputy Whip.

The second class is the conference leadership. It includes the conference chair and vice chair, the policy chair, the secretary, the NRCC chair and former chair, and the speaker designee. It should also include a rotating committee chair and the chairman of the leadership, but we are unsure if those positions are filled.

The third class are certain committee chairs: appropriations, budget, energy and commerce financial services, rules, and ways & means (although the chairs of budget and ways & means were not always included in prior years).

The final class are regional representatives. The list is a little idiosyncratic, but it seems to include regional representation, a small state rep, and a variation of members from larger states (such as TX, CA, FL, PA, OH) have their own representation . There’s also consistently a representative of the current and former class (e.g., the 116th and 115th classes this year) and the Dean of the House.

What’s most notable about Republican Steering Committee Membership is that except for a handful of members, like Reps. McCarthy, Scalise, and Walden, many of the members are new faces.

Changes in Steering Committee Operations?
Thanks in part to a shuffle in power at the top of committees, there has been talk recently of whether the Democratic Caucus will change their internal caucus rules to allow more Members to vye for higher positions not on the basis of seniority. Assignment to a powerful party leadership role or committee affords Members prestige and political clout. And the initial committee assignments can shape a Member’s career in Congress.

Changes in how the steering committees operate may also reflect changes in other operations of the House. Will power continue to flow towards leadership or will committees be empowered again? Will subcommittee chairs start to become relevant? Will parallel structures, like the old Democratic Study Group, be recreated? It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

We’ve gathered all the copies of the House Democratic Caucus and Republican Conference rules and published them here. We also have put together as many members of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee and Republican Steering Committee over the last decade and published them here.

See below for our list of current members of the Democratic Policy and Steering Committee. Did we miss any? Do you know who is on the list? If so, email taylor@demandprogress.org.

Steering Committee Chair: Nancy Pelosi

Steering Committee Co-Chairs: Rosa DeLauro, Eric Swallwell, and Barbara Lee

Policy and Communications Chair: David Cicillne

Caucus Co-Chairs, Policy and Communications: Ted Lieu, Debbie Dingell, and Matt Cartwright

Democratic Whip: Steny Hoyer

Assistant Democratic Leader: Ben Ray Lujan

Democratic Caucus Chair: Hakeem Jeffries

Democratic Caucus Vice-Chair: Katherine Clark

DCCC Chair: Cheri Bustos

Caucus Leadership Representative serving 5 terms or less: Jamie Raskin

Freshman Leadership Representative: Veronica Escobar

Senior Chief Deputy Whip: John Lewis (note: we do not know who will take his place)

Chief Deputy Whips: Pete Aguilar, Diana DeGette, G.K. Butterfield, Dan Kildee, Jan Schakowsky, Debbie Wasserman Shultz, Terri Sewell, and Peter Welch

Region Reps: Judy Chu, Doris Matsui, Dina Titus, Henry Cuellar, Bill Pascrell, Gregory Meeks

Committee Chairs: Nita Lowey (Appropriations), John Yarmuth (Budget), Frank Pallone (Energy and Commerce), Maxine Waters (Financial Services), James McGovern (Rules), and Richie Neal (Ways and Means)

Freshman Representative: Deb Haaland

Members Appointed by the Democratic Leader: Steven Cohen, Mike Doyle, Al Green, Sheila Jackson Lee, Robin Kelly, Derek Kilmer, Ann Kuster, Betty McCollum, Grace Meng, Donald Norcross, Linda Sanchez, Darren Soto, Mike Thompson, Lauren Underwood, and Frederica Wilson

Written by Taylor J. Swift