Building the Bloc: Intraparty Organization in the U.S. Congress
(Cambridge University Press, 2017)
Building the Bloc offers the first comprehensive theory to explain the logic and development of organized intraparty factions in Congress. For decades, scholars have engaged in a vigorous but increasingly entrenched debate about how to characterize the balance of power between congressional party leaders and rank and file lawmakers. While some have argued that leaders dictate the pace, scope, and substance of lawmaking, others contend that pivotal legislators — members empowered by the majoritarian rules of the House and the Senate filibuster — have the final say. Revealing the origins and impact of intraparty blocs in Congress over the past century, I draw on foundational work from both camps to explain when and how rank and file members are able to successfully defy their leadership.
Using a combination of archival and interview data, I show that even when dissident members of a party’s rank and file collectively constitute a pivotal bloc of votes, they often struggle to challenge party leaders for control over policy and procedure. Facing collective action and coordination problems similar to those motivating the creation of congressional parties, members often form groups like the contemporary House Freedom Caucus to secure their shared policy or procedural goals. When they invest in institution-building of this kind, dissidents create opportunities to convert their shared objectives from public goods into excludable accomplishments; provide targeted incentives to reward unity; and develop internal rules to facilitate group decision making. Spanning a full century of legislative politics from the Progressive era through to the contemporary Congress, I detail how these intraparty organizations have shaped major legislative battles and how they mediate the electoral connection.
In 2020, Building the Bloc was awarded the 31st D.B. Hardeman Prize by the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation for the best book on the U.S. Congress, from the fields of biography, history, journalism and political science. In 2018, it won the Alan Rosenthal Prize from the APSA Legislative Studies Section for the best book or article written by a junior scholar.