Who Steers the Ship in the 117th Congress? 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. Who serves on these committees and how are they chosen? Read on. (If this seems familiar, we looked at internal party committee makeup for the 116th Congress here).

Under the House rules, each party decides committee assignments for its Members. As a result, the steering and policy committees are an integral piece to secure intraparty 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 rise and fall, creating 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. Its current structure has six classes of members. In July 2020, 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. While we wait for the release of the 117th caucus rules, you can compare the differences between the 115th and 116th caucus rules here

The first class are the steering committee chair and co-chairs (3). Co-chairs are elected by the Members.

The second class is the caucus political arm. House Democrats elect steering and policy chairs (4); the caucus policy and communications co-chairs (4); the democratic whip and assistant to the democratic leader; the caucus chair, vice chair, DCCC chair, parliamentarian, caucus leadership rep serving five terms or less, and freshman rep. Some of these positions are chosen by the Members, others by the steering committee chair (i.e. the Speaker).

Some of the biggest changes in the second class in the 116th Caucus rules include removing the policy and communications chair — previously held by Rep. Cicilline — and replacing the position with an additional co-chair, which was filled by Rep. Neguse. 

The third class are the whips. It’s led by the Senior Deputy Whips (2) and a number of chief deputy whips. In sessions past, the individuals serving in these positions rarely have ever changed. However, the 117th House Democrats only retained four chief deputy whips: Reps. Kildee, Sewell, Wasserman-Schultz, and Welch. While caucus Rule #10 states, “No Member shall be appointed or elected to more than two consecutive terms,” that rule has not always been followed.

The fourth class are the regional reps, and there are 12 of them. They are elected by regions. This class also had a high rate of turnover in the 117th Congress, with only one Member, Rep. Steve Cohen, retaining his role as Region 7 representative. 

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. On December 1st, the Steering and Policy Committee recommended Rep. DeLauro to chair the appropriations committee by a wide margin, with DeLauro receiving 36 votes while Reps. Wasserman Shultz and Kaptur only received 11 and six votes respectively. The matter went to the caucus for a full vote; Rep. DeLauro was ultimately elected to chair the Appropriations Committee on December 4th. 

The sixth class are Members appointed by the Democratic leader (i.e., the Speaker), and there are a lot of them — 14 this upcoming Congress. Only three Members appointed from the previous Congress remain: Reps. Doyle, Sanchez, and Underwood. Many Members were either newly appointed or lost other leadership races and were retained within the circle.   

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 — who recently confirmed the upcoming session will be her last as speaker — dominates the Steering and Policy Committee.

You can see the list for the 117th Congress that we’ve compiled here. A few final notes: trends show that the Democratic Caucus seems to restructure who holds positions in part to address folks who lose leadership elections or committee races. Additionally, the caucus rules make reference to a separate set of rules that govern the Steering and Policy Committee. Those rules are not publicly available, but we think they should be.

House Republicans

House Republicans have traditionally been more open regarding information about how their conference functions, including posting its rules online as well as providing 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. (We also should note Republicans break out their policy and conference responsibilities into two distinct committees.)

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. These positions have not been publicly disclosed as of the posting of this article.

While many of the Members were new faces to Republican Steering Committee in 116th Congress, all top leadership positions for the committee next Congress remain the same. 

See the breakdown of the GOP Steering Committee for the 117th Congress here.

Additional Resources

If you’re interested in examining additional rules, 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 and here.

Senate Republican publish their conference rules and so far Senate Democrats do not. We may publish information about their leadership structure at a later date.

See below for our list of current Members of the Democratic Policy and Steering Committee and the Republican Steering Committee for the 117th Congress. Did we miss any? Do you know who is on the list? If so, email taylor@demandprogress.org

Democrats

Steering Committee Chair: Nancy Pelosi

Steering Committee Co-Chairs: Cheri Bustos, Eric Swallwell, and Barbara Lee

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

Democratic Whip: Steny Hoyer

Assistant Democratic Leader: Katherine Clark

Democratic Caucus Chair: Hakeem Jeffries

Democratic Caucus Vice-Chair: Pete Aguilar

DCCC Chair: Sean Patrick Maloney

Caucus Leadership Representative serving 5 terms or less: Colin Allred

Freshman Leadership Representative: Mondaire Jones

Senior Chief Deputy Whip: Jan Schakowsky and G.K. Butterfield

Chief Deputy Whips: Henry Cuellar, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Dan Kildee, Stephanie Murphy, Jimmy Panetta, Terri Sewell, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Peter Welch

Region Reps: Lucile Roybal-Allard, Anna Eshoo, Betty McCollum, Robin Kelly, Susie Lee, Raul Grijalva, Steve Cohen, Frederica Wilson, Anthony Brown, Joyce Beatty, Paul Tonko, Annie Kuster

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

Freshman Representative: Nikema Williams

Members Appointed by the Democratic Leader: David Cicilline, Angie Craig, Madeleine Dean, Diana DeGette, Suzan DelBene, Mike Doyle, Veronica Escobar, Debra Haaland, Josh Harder, Sara Jacobs, Doris Matsui, Bill Pascrell, Linda Sanchez, Lauren Underwood

Republicans

Republican Leader (title varies): Kevin McCarthy

Minority/Majority Whip: Steve Scalise

Conference Chair: Liz Cheney

Policy Chair: Gary Palmer

Conference Vice Chair: Mike Johnson

Conference Secretary: Richard Hudson

NRCC Chair: Tom Emmer

Chair of the Republican Study Committee: Jim Banks

Committee Ranking Members: GT Thompson (Agriculture), Kay Granger (Appropriations), Mike Rogers (Armed Services), Jason Smith (Budget), Virginia Foxx (Education and Labor), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Energy and Commerce), Patrick McHenry (Financial Services), Michale McCaul (Foreign Affairs), Jim Jordan (Judiciary), Bruce Westerman (Natural Resources), James Comer (Oversight and Reform), Frank Lucas (Science, Space, and Technology), Small Business (Blaine Luektemeyer), Sam Graves (Transportation and Infrastructure), Mike Bost (Veterans’ Affairs), and Kevin Brady (Ways and Means)