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What is a Congressional Caucus?

Hiram Sanabria, other editors

In 1973, the House of Representatives had 13 African-American Representatives, the highest number of African-Americans to serve in Congress simultaneously in up to that point in U.S. history. Prompted by Charles Diggs Jr.’s 1955 election as the first African-American House member to represent Michigan, he and other African-American lawmakers created the Democratic Select Committee – later named the Congressional Black Caucus; A successful and expanding group of Legislators still active today.

When the Congressional Black Caucus was first created, the group faced solid partisan opposition— and lacked adequate resources and credibility to be a significant force in Congress. This lack of real power in Congress was proven by President Richard Nixon’s refusal to meet with Caucus members for discussions. This move was met with the group member’s unanimous refusal to attend his State of the Union address. As a result of widespread attention to the caucus’s response, President Nixon gave in and met with the group to establish the caucus’s recognition and credibility in Congress.

What is a Congressional Caucus?

A Congressional Caucus, or Congressional Member Organization (CMOs, also known as an Informal Member Organization), is an unofficial coalition of Congress members with similar goals and interests who band together to achieve specific policy objectives. Hundreds of CMOs from the House to the Senate exist within the chamber walls, reflecting members’ objectives and future legislative aspirations.

Created in 1959, the Democratic Study Group (DSG – not to be confused with the Democratic Select Committee) is considered the first modern Informal Member Organization in Congressional history. It was founded in 1959 and was active until 1994. It was founded "as a liberal counterpoint to the influence of senior conservatives and southern Democrats" and played a crucial role in passing liberal legislation despite opposition from conservatives during the late 1950s and 1960s.

Congressional Caucus membership is generally split between the Congressional Progressive Caucus, New Democrat Coalition, Republican Study Committee, and Freedom Caucus. On top of these, others, such as the Congressional Black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific American Caucuses, have significant Congressional membership. More recently, the LGBT Equality Caucus was formed to focus on expanding and preserving LGBTQ rights.

What is the purpose of CMOs and Informal Member Organizations?

Despite constraints on House Members' ability to assist CMOs and Informal Member Groups, the number of CMOs and Informal Member Groups has grown significantly since the 1990s. It plays a crucial role in congressional affairs today, frequently used to debate ideas and proposed actions related to public policy or representational issues. Groups may participate in direct legislative lobbying for a specific issue or concern, provide opportunities for Members and staff to learn about policy issues, or raise public awareness about those issues. Informal Member Groups frequently hold member or staff meetings to discuss and devise legislating strategies. While certain Informal Member Groups have more specific goals, other organizations may have broader objectives and address various areas of concern for policy topics.



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