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Currently in the House the Republican party is divided, causing (so far) 8 failed votes for Speaker. My understanding is the House cannot do anything until a Speaker is chosen, so they will just keep voting until a consensus can be made.

My question is, how would this play out if something similar happened in the Senate, or is that not even possible? The Majority Leader is chosen by a majority vote within their caucus alone, so having a handful of rogue senators wouldn't have the same impact as in the House. Conceivably though you could have a situation where the majority party is split 50/50 internally and sits at a stalemate.

For example, if the senate was split 52-48, there is a clear majority winner. But within the majority party they may be split 26-26 in voting for the caucus leader. If a Majority Leader cannot be chosen, would there be anything preventing the Senate from moving forward with other business?

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    This situation cannot arise in the U.S. Senate, since that body does not choose its own president. The Majority Leader does not fill the same role in the Senate as the Speaker does in the House. Jan 5, 2023 at 20:26
  • @AndrewRay - Of course it can, The party leaders are the first to determine what measures are acted on. If parties cannot agree on their leaders, who is to speak for the party (caucus).
    – Rick Smith
    Jan 5, 2023 at 20:32
  • The Majority Leader in the House is a separate position from the Speaker. Its holder is considered the second most powerful person in the House (with the Minority Leader being third, I think) but it's not Constitutionally defined, just convention. That's the position that's equivalent to the Senate's Majority Leader, not the Speaker.
    – Bobson
    Jan 5, 2023 at 20:48

2 Answers 2

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Q: What would happen in the Senate if the Majority party is divided in their election of Majority Leader?

Before the development of floor leaders, the presiding officer would give the floor to any senator who rose. Thus each senator was given the opportunity to speak on the current or other matters. In other words, party leadership is not strictly required for the Senate to function. With the advent of leadership positions, the Senate became somewhat more focused.

Party leadership emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when both party conferences in the Senate elected leaders to speak for their members, coordinate action on the Senate floor, and work with the executive branch on policy priorities when in the same party as the president. To address their members' political and policy goals, the parties created steering committees, campaign committees, and policy committees. By the 21st century, senators of both party conferences granted their leaders a great deal of control over the Senate's agenda.

As for dealing with the internal party dispute for electing their leader, they would work it out. How depends on the circumstances and personalities involved. It has happened before — Democratic Leadership Deadlock, January 15, 1920.

The death of Senate Democratic Leader Thomas Martin in November 1919 touched off a battle among Senate Democrats that revealed a deeply divided party.

[...] members of the Senate Democratic caucus met on January 15, 1920, to elect a new floor leader. Preliminary headcounts indicated that the two candidates—Hitchcock of Nebraska and Oscar Underwood of Alabama—each had 19 supporters. To break this deadlock, Underwood’s allies sought a ruling that would allow Treasury Secretary Carter Glass to vote. The governor of Virginia had recently appointed Glass to fill Martin’s seat, but Glass was not immediately free to leave the cabinet. Sensing that such an arrangement would taint his claim to the leadership, Underwood agreed to postpone the election for several months.

By the time the Democratic caucus assembled in April to choose its leader, Hitchcock had tired of the battle. He withdrew in favor of Underwood, who won by acclamation.

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  • My perception has been that the Majority Leader gets to decide what bills and confirmations get voted on. Famously, McConnell did not allow Merrick Garland's appointment to even be voted on. Is this power then just the extension of being the voice of >50 votes and not something given to the title Majority Leader?
    – David K
    Jan 6, 2023 at 13:16
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    @DavidK - Yes, an extension. By the 21st century, senators of both party conferences granted their leaders a great deal of control over the Senate's agenda. The agenda is the agenda of the party, as a whole. Essentially, that which will advance the interests of the party, in opposition to the interests (or agenda) of the other party -- conservative versus liberal, for McConnell.
    – Rick Smith
    Jan 6, 2023 at 13:34
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The Vice President leads the senate and casts any tie breaking vote that is needed. This was the case in 2020 when the senate was tied with 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and 2 Independents and the VP cast the tie breaking votes to make the decision.

Under the Constitution, the vice president serves as the president of the Senate and presides over the Senate's daily proceedings. In the absence of the vice president, the Senate's president pro tempore (and others designated by them) presides. As one of the Senate's constitutional officers, only the vice president has the authority to cast a tie-breaking vote.

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    The question is about party leadership positions in the Senate. Assume, 52 members of the majority party, with voting tied for selection of the Majority Leader; or, for that matter, a tie for selection of the Minority Leader.
    – Rick Smith
    Jan 5, 2023 at 20:26
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    @RickSmith Party leadership doesn't stop the senate from conducting business like the speaker of the house does.
    – Joe W
    Jan 5, 2023 at 20:49
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    I was trying to gently say this answer does not answer the question. To apply this answer to a scenario as posed in the question, this answer says that a Democratic vice president would cast a tie-breaking vote, if a Republican majority was tied in their selection of majority leader.
    – Rick Smith
    Jan 5, 2023 at 21:41
  • @RickSmith I understand what you were trying to suggest, but that doesn't mean I agree with it.
    – Joe W
    Jan 5, 2023 at 21:59
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    @DavidK Majority/Minority leadership are not needed for the senate to operate and it can operate like normal even if there is no majority leader
    – Joe W
    Jan 6, 2023 at 1:12

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