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House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has completed the first overhaul of the party’s vote-counting apparatus in more than a decade, adding two new layers of personnel to the operation and elevating Rep. John Lewis (D) to the position of senior Chief Deputy Whip — a job that puts the Georgia lawmaker in a direct line of succession to the No. 2 spot in leadership.
The changes are part of a top-to-bottom reorganization that Hoyer cast as an effort to provide the broadest possible cross-section of Members with specific roles in ensuring the party meets its goals on the floor.
"My intent is to make everybody feel they have a responsibility to fulfill an end — [the end being] the success of our issues," Hoyer said in an interview this week.
To be sure, the most visible changes will be taking place at the top of the organization. As Lewis moves up, Hoyer is at the same time adding three key allies — Reps. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), Baron Hill (Ind.) and Ron Kind (Wis.) — to the team of Chief Deputy Whips, placing his personal stamp on the leadership team he inherited from Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), the new Minority Leader.
But Hoyer suggested he has saved his most significant changes for the mechanics of the operation, imposing a more "formal" structure on what he said has traditionally been something of a "self-appointed enterprise."
At the center of the newly devised organization will be a cluster of roughly 70 Members, divided into two groups: about 40 senior Whips and nearly 30 assistant Whips.
Both groups will have distinct obligations. Hoyer indicated that the senior Whips will essentially be expected to keep the pulse of the Caucus, reporting to leadership on issues as they develop in the rank and file or in committees.
Hoyer envisions the senior Whips as a collection of influential Members from across the range of committees and the leaderships of the party’s powerful coalitions. Among them will also be Members who can plug directly into other important groups, such as the freshman and sophomore classes.
The job of the assistant Whips, by contrast, will basically be to cultivate: Hoyer will assign each of these Members five colleagues for whom they are personally responsible. The job of these Whips will be to familiarize themselves with the interests and needs of their charges, but also to work with these Members on the interests and needs of the leadership.
Hoyer made clear that he expects the assistant Whips to be particularly keen to the political dynamics faced by the Members — moderates, mostly — who hail from marginal districts.
"One of the things an assistant Whip wants to do is know when a Member can and cannot do something," Hoyer said. "No Member should feel the need to vote against the interests of their district."
In bringing a more formal structure to the whip organization, Hoyer welcomed comparisons to the rigid organization plied by former Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the new Majority Leader.
"There’s a similarity between the two [systems] because our objective is the same: We want to win," Hoyer said.
Hoyer inherited a whip organization that has remained virtually unchanged since former Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich.) began counting the party’s votes in 1991.
Some elements of the traditional operations will remain the same. Hoyer plans to retain the normal structure of regional and at-large Whips elected across the Caucus. Their role, he said, will continue to be to "start" the actual whipping process, by providing the first counts to leadership.
And Hoyer suggested he will build on one aspect of the work of his predecessor Pelosi, by dividing up the work of his Chief Deputy Whips by legislative issue.
With Rep. Chet Edwards’ (Texas) announcement on Tuesday that he will step down as a Chief Deputy Whip to concentrate on legislative issues, the three new chief deputies will inflate the party’s complement of Chief Deputy Whips to eight, counting Lewis.
As a former candidate for Whip, Lewis was once a leadership rival of both Hoyer and Pelosi. Realizing he could not win, the Georgia lawmaker dropped out of that contest in 1999 and threw his support to Hoyer, who was himself defeated by Pelosi in October 2001.
Hoyer said that Lewis’ new leadership post will effectively make him Hoyer’s deputy, and will position him to take control of the whip operation when Hoyer is not able to be present for meetings or votes.