Politics

Here’s what the minority whip does — and what it means that Katherine Clark got the job 

“This is something that will catapult her into a much more visible person. She will get a national profile, and we'll see what she does with it down the line.”

Rep. Katherine Clark speaks after be elected by House Democrats as the new Democratic whip at the Capitol in Washington Nov. 30. Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo

A Massachusetts representative from the 5th congressional district has moved up the ranks in the U.S. House of Representatives and was recently selected to be the party’s next minority whip, making history as only the second woman to hold the position.

The representative in question is Rep. Katherine Clark, who was first elected to the House in 2013. This move is a rise in rank to second highest ranked Democrat in the House from her current position of assistant speaker, which sits at number four on the leadership chart. 

As the January swearing in of the new Congress looms, so does the official start date for her new position. But what does it really mean?

Katherine Clark:

The whip is one of the top positions in both the majority and minority parties in Congress. They are responsible for keeping tabs on how members of the caucus will vote on upcoming issues, as well as being sort of a mediator between leadership and the rest of the representatives. 

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“For both majority and minority parties or in multi-party systems, their job is exactly what it sounds like: they have to whip votes,” Christina Kulich, an instructor of political science and legal studies at Suffolk University, told Boston.com. “So they look to keep members in line and to make sure that there is an accurate count of the type of support that they’ll have in terms of yes or no votes.”

The position stems from English politics, said visiting lecturer in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University Jeff Moyer, though in practice it is a bit different in the United States. 

“If members vote against the party interest too much, then they can lose fundraising, they can lose access to political benefits, there’s a whole list of things, so the [position of the] whip is more or less knowing their membership and otherwise making sure that they vote the way that leadership wants them to,” Moyer told Boston.com.

The whip’s work of figuring out where people stand on issues is important, Kulich said, because party leadership, like outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, often like to avoid taking bills to the floor that their party won’t win. 

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The selection process for whip positions is up to each party to decide, and for the Democrats it is a simple vote, Kulich said. 

“Internally the Democrats are very small-d democratic and it is an elected office … Only caucus members vote,” Kulich said. “But in this instance there was no drama about the top three positions. Everybody pretty much agreed. They ran unopposed.”

New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who will serve as the party’s next House minority leader; California Rep. Pete Aguilar, who will serve as chair of the House Democratic Caucus; and Clark, who will make up the top of the House minority leadership come January, were all trained in how to do these jobs and how to do them effectively by their predecessors, Kulich said.

“She’s a connector, and she’s a schmoozer, and she is part of the strategist’s position, and she has a really strong position there because of her connections with younger lawmakers, with incoming lawmakers. She has made it her business to know everybody in the caucus really, really well,” Kulich said. “So not only is she responsible for figuring out who’s on which page and keep keeping the count, trying to herd the sheep — or the cats, I think, is probably more appropriate — she is an intel officer.”

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Clark was selected last week in a unanimous vote, according to the Boston Globe. 

“It is very deeply humbling and honoring. I am looking forward to working with this caucus and the incredible team, with the historic election of Hakeem Jeffries and Pete Aguilar,” the Revere Democrat told the Globe. “This is a caucus ready to get to work for the American people.”

What does it mean for Massachusetts? 

This position puts Clark in place to do “things that are good for Massachusetts,” in concert with other high-ranking members of Congress who hail from the commonwealth, Kulich said. 

“I think it’s Massachusetts punching above its weight in terms of senior leadership in Congress,” Kulich said. “Both of our senators” — Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren — “are public figures and carry a lot of clout and get a lot of hate too. We have Jim McGovern who is Rules Committee chair … We’ve got members on Ways and Means, we’ve got appropriators. Our representatives are on really key committees, and having Katherine Clark in leadership only strengthens Massachusetts’ position.”

This position will allow Clark to advocate for New England more, Moyer said, adding that she represents a very local approach to politics.

“She was first elected to the school board [in Melrose], then she was elected to the State House, and then ultimately to the Congress,” Moyer said. “She’s a professional politician, at least in the sense that she’s been doing it for many years, but I think she represents sort of a more recent strain of political participation, and I think Democrats are going to continue to sort of cultivate that kind of skill level and approach”

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The new job does come with some changes for Clark, Kulich said. 

“Clark will probably spend less time in her district than she was able to before, and she also will be expected to raise oodles and oodles of money for the party and for the caucus,” Kulich said. “This is something that will catapult her into a much more visible person. She will get a national profile, and we’ll see what she does with it down the line.”

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