Skip to Content

Old Bull

An “old bull” is a powerful and influential Member of Congress.

Old bulls are typically senior members who have worked their way into positions of power through decades in Congress.

These individuals often hold key committee positions and have a deep understanding of legislative processes, rules, and strategies.

Their experience and seniority provide them with the political clout necessary to shape policy, guide legislation, and mentor newer members of the legislature.

Origin of “Old Bull”

Republican strategist Ed Rollins explains:

There is a term used widely on Capitol Hill, and it needs no explanation to the tens of thousands who work there serving the House and Senate. The term is “old bulls,” and it is used to describe the most senior members of Congress.

Unlike in the farm pasture, where younger and stronger bulls sometimes push the old guys off to the sidelines, the old bulls in Congress usually get stronger and seldom get challenged either for re-election or their chairmanships or ranking positions on committees.

The influence of an old bull can be substantial.

Through their leadership roles, committee chairmanships, or simple force of personality and experience, they can guide legislation and political decisions.

Their understanding of political dynamics and the workings of the legislative body often allows them to build consensus, negotiate across party lines, and drive critical initiatives.

The network they develop over the years, both within the political arena and with external stakeholders like lobbyists and interest groups, further empowers them to push agendas and secure support for specific policies.

They often play a crucial role in mentoring younger or less experienced politicians, imparting wisdom, and providing guidance.

They may assist newcomers in navigating the complex world of politics, understanding the unwritten rules, and building relationships that are vital for legislative success.

This mentoring role contributes to the continuity and stability of the legislative process, ensuring that institutional knowledge and traditions are passed down through generations of political leaders.

While the term conveys respect and acknowledges the significant contributions such individuals often make, it is not without its criticisms.

Some argue that the entrenched power of old bulls can lead to stagnation, hinder fresh perspectives, and perpetuate a system that values seniority over merit or innovation.

Their substantial influence can sometimes overshadow or suppress the voices of newer members, possibly leading to a less diverse or dynamic political environment.

It’s worth noting that the term has masculine connotations, reflecting the historically male-dominated nature of many political bodies.

As the political landscape becomes more diverse, the language and imagery associated with political power and influence may also evolve, but the term’s usage still reflects some of the gender dynamics at play in politics.

Use of “Old Bull” in a sentence

  • The old bull of the Senate, with his decades of experience and intricate knowledge of legislative procedures, was instrumental in guiding the controversial bill through numerous obstacles.
  • As a newly-elected Congresswoman, she sought the guidance of an old bull in her party, hoping to learn the unwritten rules and strategies that could help her succeed in the political arena.
  • Critics argue that the influence of the old bulls in the legislature can stifle innovation and fresh perspectives, as their entrenched positions and connections often overshadow the voices of younger and more diverse members.