With the change to the Alaska primary rules, and her recent denunciation of President Trump's actions inciting the recent violent riot/insurrection, a few (although I have yet to see particularly serious suggestion, hence my question) people have questioned whether Lisa Murkowski might leave the Republican caucus and sit as an independent. Obviously given the Republican Party has a 51-seat majority currently in the Senate, it wouldn't change the Senate leadership today, but the scenario does make me wonder about the question:

  1. Supposing the majority party's majority dropped below 50 seats because one or more senators became independent or switched parties (and therefore the scenario is different to a senator's death and presumably a re-election of the same parties candidate in a special election), does the majority leader change automatically?
  2. Or does there have to be some sort of particular vote?
  3. Is the position of "Majority Leader" legally enshrined in the same way "Speaker of the House" is, or is it a position more of convention?
  • 1
    Note that this will be happening on January 20, 2021 after the presidential inauguration. The current congressional term (117th Congress) started on January 3, 2021 with a Republican majority in the Senate, hence Mitch McConnell is the majority leader. As the Democrats have won both Georgia runoffs, the Senate will have a 50–50 majority in favour of the Democrats after January 20 as VP Harris will be able to break ties. The majority leader will then change.
    – Panda
    Jan 9, 2021 at 9:03

1 Answer 1


The position of Majority leader of the senate is created by the Senate Rules, which are enacted at the stasrt of every session of Congress, usually with little change.

The Senate chooses the Majority leader by vote, and can change the leader at any time. This can occur if the balance of parties changes, whether by death, resignation, special election, impeachment and removal from office or change of alignment of a Senator. This has happened in the past. It can also change if the members of the majority party decide that they want a different leader, with no change in the party balance.

This oifficial page from the Senate says:

The positions of party floor leaders are not included in the Constitution but developed gradually in the 20th century. The first floor leaders were formally designated in 1920 (Democrats) and 1925 (Republicans).

The Senate Republican and Democratic floor leaders are elected by the members of their party in the Senate at the beginning of each Congress. Depending on which party is in power, one serves as majority leader and the other as minority leader.


The posts of majority and minority leader are not included in the Constitution, as are the president of the Senate (the vice president of the United States) and the president pro tempore. Instead, party floor leadership evolved out of necessity. During the 19th century, floor leadership was exercised by the chair of the party conference and the chairs of the most powerful standing committees. In 1913, to help enact President Woodrow Wilson's ambitious legislative program, Democratic Conference chairman John Worth Kern of Indiana began functioning along the lines of the modern majority leader. In 1919, when Republicans returned to the majority, Republican Conference chairman Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., also acted as floor leader. Not until 1925 did Republicans officially designate Senator Charles Curtis of Kansas as majority leader, separate from the conference chair.

  • There were two majority leaders during the 75th Congress (1937–1939), Joseph T. Robinson having died in office
  • There were two majority leaders during the 83rd Congress (1953–1955) Robert Taft, Jr. (R-OH) having died in office
  • 107th Congress (2001–2003) From January 3 to January 20, 2001, with the Senate divided evenly between the two parties, the Democrats held the majority due to the deciding vote of outgoing Democratic Vice President Al Gore. Senator Thomas A. Daschle served as majority leader at that time. Beginning on January 20, 2001, Republican Vice President Richard Cheney held the deciding vote, giving the majority to the Republicans. Senator Trent Lott resumed his position as majority leader on that date. On May 24, 2001, Senator James Jeffords of Vermont announced his switch from Republican to Independent status, effective June 6, 2001. He announced that he would caucus with the Democrats, giving the party a one-seat advantage and changing control of the Senate back to the Democrats. Thomas A. Daschle again became majority leader on June 6, 2001.

This essay from LegBranxh says:

Put simply, party leaders are powerful because rank-and-file senators defer to them to manage the institution how they see fit. This deference is not mandated by the Senate’s official rules. Rather, it is simply grounded in its past practice. The implication is that frustrated members can easily change how the Senate operates at any point

The actual Standing Rules of the Senate do not seem to contain any provision for the choice of majority and minority leader -- it seems to be purely a matter of custom, although several rules acknowledge the existence of the position.

  • 1
    @David-Seigel Thank you very much. I was kind of expecting a half dozen poorly researched or biased answers before I got one I trusted. Yours is well answered, and simple to understand (unlike half the rules of the House/Senate which I tried to read before asking the question). My only reply would be to ask if you could point me to the specific Senate rule that relates to the Majority leader, or any other times the Majority Leader has changed during a congressional term? Thanks in advance. Jan 8, 2021 at 23:50
  • @user2757598 I have further updated my answer with all that I can find. Is it worth an upvote now? Jan 9, 2021 at 0:44

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .