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What is a Ranking Member?

Ken Black
Ken Black

A ranking member is a member of a congressional committee or legislative committee who is the second in command, or is perhaps the leader of the minority in the committee. In some cases, the term ranking minority member is used to differentiate who is in the minority, but that may not always be the case, depending on the standard practices for the state or country. This member may not have all the duties of the chairman, but may still have some additional tasks to perform.

Typically, the ranking member designation is bestowed on the senior member of the committee, if that person is not the chairman. If the chairman is the senior member, then the title is often given to the second-most senior member. Still, this is not a steadfast rule. Ranking member status may be bestowed upon individuals because they may have some direct experience with certain issues that makes their input on the committee more valuable.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

One of the most common tasks a ranking member will perform is to deal with other members of his or her party to determine where the votes are on a given issue. In the full legislative body, this person is known as a "whip." In a committee setting, there is no whip because it is a much more intimate experience. The committee phase is where much of the legislative action takes place, such as testimony and other legislative hearings. The ranking member may be responsible for inviting or providing some of these individuals.

In some cases, the ranking member of a committee may also serve as the vice chair. In the chairman’s absence, it is then up to this member to run the committee meeting. This may be a largely procedural matter, but the individual may have the power to at least delay a vote on an issue until the chairman can return, and make a more permanent decision.

As with any committee procedure, the ranking member does not have a great deal of power in relation to the other members. The chairman can often unilaterally bring up or stop an issue in the committee, but that is not a privilege often extended to ranking members. Each member of the committee receives one vote, but the ranking member may be able to influence others more easily, by threatening to convince others to vote one way or another on an issue. New legislators may be especially receptive to the position of a more senior member.

Discussion Comments


@cardsfan27 - True, but most political systems are like that and America's is no different. In order to get things passed that people do want passed, they must play the game the way it is set up. That is why it is important for people to adapt and for the ranking members to hold power in order to get things passed that they want.

If you challenge the system you will probably lose and it is up to the people that hold the power, a.k.a. the ranking members and heads of the committees, in order to be honest with their jobs and be able to express their power in a way to get what they want passed and to do good for society.


@TreeMan - Absolutely. The ranking member of the committee holds a lot of power in these committees, thus they hold a lot of power in regards to the bills being accepting to be heard on the House floor or being completely scraped and rejected.

To get things done in Congress one must hold power. That is why being the head of a committee is a very sought after thing and it is very vital for a congressman to be the head of a committee or a ranking member in order to further enhance their political careers.

It may be unfortunate that this is the ways things are done, but it is the political system that we live in and is an inevitable thing that occurs in the world of politics.


@kenctuckycat - I agree in regards to the importance of the ranking members. There is a reason why people in Congress want to be the heads of the committees and that consists of the amount of pull and power that you have in regards to bills being passed.

Even if you are not the head of the committee but are the ranking member of your party you still hold the power of your party in the committee and speak for the voice of the minority in the room.

People take for granted the importance of these committees and just assume that everything is taken care of on the House floor. This is not at all the case and it is the behind the scenes things that occur in the committees that get most of the job done, with the ranking members leading the charge.


The various committees of Congress are the most important places for a bill to go. Most of the time a bill does not go to the house floor, it is referred to a committee where it is discussed and decided whether or not it should be listened to on the house floor.

Most of the time the bill is killed in the committee and never goes to the floor. This makes the ranking members of these committees so important.

Since they are considered ranking members they already have more pull in the committees as far as bills go. If they support a bill it will probably go to the floor at least and if not it may get killed right there.

In these small meeting rooms a lot of the work in Congress occurs and that makes these ranking members so important.

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