There's already a question about how an independent Senator chooses which of the two parties to caucus with, but it doesn't address why one would want to do so in the first place.

Based on the current state of the Kansas Senatorial race, there's a definitely possibility that the Senate could split 50 R - 49 D, with Greg Orman from Kansas as an left-leaning independent from a right-leaning state. He has said he would caucus with the majority party, but in the 50-49 scenario whichever party he joins is the majority (51 Republicans with him, or a 50-50 split with him and a Democratic tie-breaker).

In this scenario, I'd think the wise thing to do would be to not officially caucus with either party, instead either voting his conscience (aka what he thinks is best for his state) or bartering his vote on various bills for support for his own agenda.

Is this a realistic option? Is it possible for him to choose not to caucus with either side? Or is there a significant downside to doing so?

While this question addresses just the one Senator in this situation, it could equally apply to two-or-more independents who are close enough philosophically to work together in a closely-split Senate to sway votes one way or the other.

  • Don't have an official answer, but committee assignments seem like a good reason to caucus
    – user4012
    Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 1:37
  • @DVK - Could be, but the linchpin Senator could barter his vote on certain issues for an assignment to the relevant committee. Whether that would actually work, I don't know.
    – Bobson
    Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 12:27

1 Answer 1


The way the Senate works the majority party sets the schedule for what gets voted on and when, they also work with the minority party to come up with how many seats on each committee are for each party. Being the majority party is essentially everything, individual votes for bills are far less important. Not all committees are equal in importance, any independent wanting to be part of the more prestigious committees will need to work with one of the major parties. Furthermore since bills need to go though their appropriate committee, a senator who campaigned on budget or energy issues would be very unlikely to fulfill any campaign promises without being a member of those committees or negotiating favors with a member which would likely include caucusing with that party.

In the special case where an independent would be the deciding member for majority control they would have significantly more bargaining power than otherwise to advance their agenda and possibly leap frog more senior senators for committee positions. They won't be able to remain independent though, being the majority party is huge and either party would require a senator to caucus with them, and the loss in trust from switching sides would weaken their bargaining power. Not caucusing with either side isn't really an option, neither party is going to give away anything for free, and neither party is going to give anything significant for a single vote because almost every senator from the opposite party has a price for any given vote.

  • Good answer. In the Senate, the majority party usually wants a supermajority anyway (2/3rds) in order to filibuster-proof a bill, so the bargaining power of an individual senator in a 50/50 split would be less than one might think. Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 13:46
  • 1
    @JamieRumbelow I know the post is old but this just seems to me that the independent should file in court to end the practice of these two parties controlling things. Just my two cents..
    – Ken
    Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 9:40
  • 2
    @Ken You have a very unrealistic view of how much the courts want to, or even can, control the internal workings of Congress. Commented Sep 22, 2021 at 3:30
  • @suchiuomizu it is called constitutionally challenging the arrangement of congress - the rules of congress can not interfere with the actual constitution or the intent of the constitution. That requires someone to pony up the lawyer$ to go after those rules to get them declared a violation of the constitution. It is not unrealistic that is the way things work. Just as a law can be made but until it is challenged it might remain in effect. Congress can make rules but until those rules are challenged in court - they are allowed to remain.
    – Ken
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 21:48
  • @Ken your view doesn't actually match the established precedent. Congressional rules have consistently been upheld even if they appear to violate the constitution like those about assuming a quorum.
    – Ryathal
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 12:20

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