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The speaker of the United States House of Representatives is the presiding officer of the United States House of Representatives. The office was established in 1789 by Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. The speaker is the political and parliamentary leader of the House of Representatives, and is simultaneously the House's presiding officer, de facto leader of the body's majority party, and the institution's administrative head. Speakers also perform various other administrative and procedural functions. Given these several roles and responsibilities, the speaker usually does not personally preside over debates. That duty is instead delegated to members of the House from the majority party. Neither does the speaker regularly participate in floor debates.

The Constitution does not require the speaker to be an incumbent member of the House of Representatives, although every speaker thus far has been.[4] The speaker is second in the United States presidential line of succession, after the vice president and ahead of the president pro tempore of the Senate.[2]

The current House speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California, was elected to the office on January 3, 2019. Pelosi previously served as speaker from January 4, 2007 to January 3, 2011. She has the distinction of being the first woman to serve as speaker, and is also the first former speaker to be returned to office since Sam Rayburn in 1955.[5]

Selection

The House elects its speaker at the beginning of a new Congress (i.e. biennially, after a general election) or when a speaker dies, resigns or is removed from the position intra-term. Since 1839, the House has elected speakers by roll call vote.[6] Traditionally, each party's caucus or conference selects a candidate for the speakership from among its senior leaders prior to the roll call. Representatives are not restricted to voting for the candidate nominated by their party, but generally do, as the outcome of the election effectively determines which party has the majority and consequently will organize the House.[7] As the Constitution does not explicitly state that the speaker must be an incumbent member of the House, it is permissible for representatives to vote for someone who is not a member of the House at the time, and non-members have received a few votes in various speaker elections over the past several years.[8] Every person elected speaker has been a member.[7]

Representatives that choose to vote for someone other than their party's nominated candidate usually vote for someone else in their party or vote "present". Anyone who votes for the other party's candidate would face serious consequences, as was the case when Democrat Jim Traficant voted for Republican Dennis Hastert in 2001 (107th Congress). In response, the Democrats stripped him of his seniority and he lost all of his committee posts.[9]

To be elected speaker, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of the votes cast, as opposed to an absolute majority of the full membership of the House – presently 218 votes, in a House of 435. There have only been a few instances during the past century where a person received a majority of the votes cast, and thus won the election, while failing to obtain a majority of the full membership. It happened most recently in 2015 (114th Congress), when John Boehner was elected with 216 votes (as opposed to 218). Such a variation in the number of votes necessary to win a given election might arise due to vacancies, absentees, or members being present but not voting. If no candidate wins a majority of the "votes cast for a person by name", then the roll call is repeated until a speaker is elected.[7] Multiple roll calls have been necessary only 14 times (out of 126 speakership elections) since 1789; and not since 1923 (68th Congress), when a closely divided House needed nine ballots to elect Frederick H. Gillett speaker.[1] Upon winning election the new speaker is immediately sworn in by the dean of the United States House of Representatives, the chamber's longest-serving member.[10][11]

History

Frederick Muhlenberg (1789–1791, 1793–1795), was the first speaker.
Henry Clay (1811–1814, 1815–1820, 1823–1825) used his influence as speaker to ensure the passage of measures he favored

The first speaker of the House, Frederick Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania, was elected to office on April 1, 1789, the day the House organized itself at the start of the 1st Congress. He served two non-consecutive terms in the speaker's chair, 1789–1791 (1st Congress) and 1793–1795 (3rd Congress).[12]

As the Constitution does not state the duties of the speaker, the speaker's role has largely been shaped by traditions and customs that evolved over time. A partisan position from early in its existence, the speakership began to gain power in legislative development under Henry Clay (1811–1814, 1815–1820, and 1823–1825).[13] In contrast to many of his predecessors, Clay participated in several debates, and used his influence to procure the passage of measures he supported—for instance, the declaration of the War of 1812, and various laws relating to Clay's "American System" economic plan. Furthermore, when no candidate received an Electoral College majority in the 1824 presidential election, causing the president to be elected by the House, Speaker Clay threw his support to John Quincy Adams instead of Andrew Jackson, thereby ensuring Adams' victory. Following Clay's retirement in 1825, the power of the speakership once again began to decline, despite speakership elections becoming increasingly bitter. As the Civil War approached, several sectional factions nominated their own candidates, often making it difficult for any candidate to attain a majority. In 1855 and again in 1859, for example, the contest for speaker lasted for two months before the House achieved a result. Speakers tended to have very short tenures during this period. For example, from 1839 to 1863 there were eleven speakers, only one of whom served for more than one term. To date, James K. Polk is the only speaker of the House who was later elected president of the United States.

Joseph Gurney Cannon (1903–1911) was one of the most powerful speakers.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the office of speaker began to develop into a very powerful one. At the time, one of the most important sources of the speaker's power was his position as Chairman of the Committee on Rules, which, after the reorganization of the committee system in 1880, became one of the most powerful standing committees of the House. Furthermore, several speakers became leading figures in their political parties; examples include Democrats Samuel J. Randall, John Griffin Carlisle, and Charles F. Crisp, and Republicans James G. Blaine, Thomas Brackett Reed, and Joseph Gurney Cannon.

The power of the speaker was greatly augmented during the tenure of the Republican Thomas Brackett Reed (1889–1891, 1895–1899). "Czar Reed", as he was called by his opponents,[14] sought to end the obstruction of bills by the minority, in particular by countering the tactic known as the "disappearing quorum".[15] By refusing to vote on a motion, the minority could ensure that a quorum would not be achieved, and that the result would be invalid. Reed, however, declared that members who were in the chamber but refused to vote would still count for the purposes of determining a quorum. Through these and other rulings, Reed ensured that the Democrats could not block the Republican agenda.

The speakership reached its apogee during the term of Republican Joseph Gurney Cannon (1903–1911). Cannon exercised extraordinary control over the legislative process. He determined the agenda of the House, appointed the members of all committees, chose committee chairmen, headed the Rules Committee, and determined which committee heard each bill. He vigorously used his powers to ensure that Republican proposals were passed by the House. In 1910, however, Democrats and several dissatisfied Republicans joined together to strip Cannon of many of his powers, including the ability to name committee members and his chairmanship of the Rules Committee.[16] Fifteen years later, Speaker Nicholas Longworth restored much, but not all, of the lost influence of the position.

Sam Rayburn (1940–1947; 1949–1953; and 1955–1961) was the longest serving speaker

One of the most influential speakers in history was Democrat Sam Rayburn.[17] Rayburn had the most cumulative time as speaker in history, holding office from 1940 to 1947, 1949 to 1953, and 1955 to 1961. He helped shape many bills, working quietly in the background with House committees. He also helped ensure the passage of several domestic measures and foreign assistance programs advocated by Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

Rayburn's successor, Democrat John W. McCormack (served 1962–1971), was a somewhat less influential speaker, particularly because of dissent from younger members of the Democratic Party. During the mid-1970s, the power of the speakership once again grew under Democrat Carl Albert. The Committee on Rules ceased to be a semi-independent panel, as it had been since 1910. Instead, it once again became an arm of the party leadership. Moreover, in 1975, the speaker was g

The Constitution does not require the speaker to be an incumbent member of the House of Representatives, although every speaker thus far has been.[4] The speaker is second in the United States presidential line of succession, after the vice president and ahead of the president pro tempore of the Senate.[2]

The current House speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California, was elected to the office on January 3, 2019. Pelosi previously served as speaker from January 4, 2007 to January 3, 2011. She has the distinction of being the first woman to serve as speaker, and is also the first former speaker to be returned to office since Sam Rayburn in 1955.[5]

The House elects its speaker at the beginning of a new Congress (i.e. biennially, after a general election) or when a speaker dies, resigns or is removed from the position intra-term. Since 1839, the House has elected speakers by roll call vote.[6] Traditionally, each party's caucus or conference selects a candidate for the speakership from among its senior leaders prior to the roll call. Representatives are not restricted to voting for the candidate nominated by their party, but generally do, as the outcome of the election effectively determines which party has the majority and consequently will organize the House.[7] As the Constitution does not explicitly state that the speaker must be an incumbent member of the House, it is permissible for representatives to vote for someone who is not a member of the House at the time, and non-members have received a few votes in various speaker elections over the past several years.[8] Every person elected speaker has been a member.[7]

Representatives that choose to vote for someone other than their party's nominated candidate usually vote for someone else in their party or vote "present". Anyone who votes for the other party's candidate would face serious consequences, as was the case when Democrat Jim Traficant voted for Republican Dennis Hastert in 2001 (107th Congress). In response, the Democrats stripped him of his seniority and he lost all of his committee posts.[9]

To be elected speaker, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of the votes cast, as opposed to an absolute majority of the full membership of the House – presently 218 votes, in a House of 435. There have only been a few instances during the past century where a person received a majority of the votes cast, and thus won the election, while failing to obtain a majority of the full membership. It happened most recently in 2015 (114th Congress), when John Boehner was elected with 216 votes (as opposed to 218). Such a variation in the number of votes necessary to win a given election might arise due to vacancies, absentees, or members being present but not voting. If no candidate wins a majority of the "votes cast for a person by name", then the roll call is repeated until a speaker is elected.[7] Multiple roll calls have been necessary only 14 times (out of 126 speakership elections) since 1789; and not since 1923 (68th Congress), when a closely divided House needed nine ballots to elect Frederick H. Gillett speaker.<

Representatives that choose to vote for someone other than their party's nominated candidate usually vote for someone else in their party or vote "present". Anyone who votes for the other party's candidate would face serious consequences, as was the case when Democrat Jim Traficant voted for Republican Dennis Hastert in 2001 (107th Congress). In response, the Democrats stripped him of his seniority and he lost all of his committee posts.[9]

To be elected speaker, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of the votes cast, as opposed to an absolute majority of the full membership of the House – presently 218 votes, in a House of 435. There have only been a few instances during the past century where a person received a majority of the votes cast, and thus won the election, while failing to obtain a majority of the full membership. It happened most recently in 2015 (114th Congress), when John Boehner was elected with 216 votes (as opposed to 218). Such a variation in the number of votes necessary to win a given election might arise due to vacancies, absentees, or members being present but not voting. If no candidate wins a majority of the "votes cast for a person by name", then the roll call is repeated until a speaker is elected.[7] Multiple roll calls have been necessary only 14 times (out of 126 speakership elections) since 1789; and not since 1923 (68th Congress), when a closely divided House needed nine ballots to elect Frederick H. Gillett speaker.[1] Upon winning election the new speaker is immediately sworn in by the dean of the United States House of Representatives, the chamber's longest-serving member.[10][11]

The first speaker of the House, Frederick Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania, was elected to office on April 1, 1789, the day the House organized itself at the start of the 1st Congress. He served two non-consecutive terms in the speaker's chair, 1789–1791 (1st Congress) and 1793–1795 (3rd Congress).[12]

As the Constitution does not state the duties of the speaker, the speaker's role has largely been shaped by traditions and customs that evolved over time. A partisan position from early in its existence, the speakership began to gain power in legislative development under Henry Clay (1811–1814, 1815–1820, and 1823–1825).[13] In contrast to many of his predecessors, Clay participated in several debates, and used his influence to procure the passage of measures he supported—for instance, the declaration of the War of 1812, and various laws relating to Clay's "American System" economic plan. Furthermore, when no candidate received an Electoral College majority in the 1824 presidential election, causing the president to be elected by the House, Speaker Clay threw his support to John Quincy Adams instead of Andrew Jackson, thereby ensuring Adams' victory. Following Clay's retirement in 1825, the power of the speakership once again began to decline, despite speakership elections becoming increasingly bitter. As the Civil War approached, several sectional factions nominated their own candidates, often making it difficult for any candidate to attain a majority. In 1855 and again in 1859, for example, the contest for speaker lasted for two months before the House achieved a result. Speakers tended to have very short tenures during this period. For example, from 1839 to 1863 there were eleven speakers, only one of whom served for more than one term. To date, James K. Polk is the only speaker of the House who was later elected president of the United States.

Joseph Gurney Cannon (1903–1911) was one of the most powerful speakers.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the office of speaker began to develop into a very powerful one. At the time, one of the most important sources of the speaker's power was his position as Chairman of the Committee on Rules, which, after the reorganization of the committee system in 1880, became one of the most powerful standing committees of the House. Furthermore, several speakers became leading figures in their political parties; examples include Democrats Samuel J. Randall, John Griffin Carlisle, and Charles F. Crisp, and Republicans James G. Blaine, Thomas Brackett Reed, and Joseph Gurney Cannon.

The power of the speaker was greatly augmented during the tenure of the Republican Thomas Brackett Reed (1889–1891, 1895–1899). "Czar Reed", as he was called by his opponents,[14] sought to end the obstruction of bills by the minority, in particular by countering the tactic known as the "disappearing quorum".[15]As the Constitution does not state the duties of the speaker, the speaker's role has largely been shaped by traditions and customs that evolved over time. A partisan position from early in its existence, the speakership began to gain power in legislative development under Henry Clay (1811–1814, 1815–1820, and 1823–1825).[13] In contrast to many of his predecessors, Clay participated in several debates, and used his influence to procure the passage of measures he supported—for instance, the declaration of the War of 1812, and various laws relating to Clay's "American System" economic plan. Furthermore, when no candidate received an Electoral College majority in the 1824 presidential election, causing the president to be elected by the House, Speaker Clay threw his support to John Quincy Adams instead of Andrew Jackson, thereby ensuring Adams' victory. Following Clay's retirement in 1825, the power of the speakership once again began to decline, despite speakership elections becoming increasingly bitter. As the Civil War approached, several sectional factions nominated their own candidates, often making it difficult for any candidate to attain a majority. In 1855 and again in 1859, for example, the contest for speaker lasted for two months before the House achieved a result. Speakers tended to have very short tenures during this period. For example, from 1839 to 1863 there were eleven speakers, only one of whom served for more than one term. To date, James K. Polk is the only speaker of the House who was later elected president of the United States.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the office of speaker began to develop into a very powerful one. At the time, one of the most important sources of the speaker's power was his position as Chairman of the Committee on Rules, which, after the reorganization of the committee system in 1880, became one of the most powerful standing committees of the House. Furthermore, several speakers became leading figures in their political parties; examples include Democrats Samuel J. Randall, John Griffin Carlisle, and Charles F. Crisp, and Republicans James G. Blaine, Thomas Brackett Reed, and Joseph Gurney Cannon.

The power of the speaker was greatly augmented during the tenure of the Republican Thomas Brackett Reed (1889–1891, 1895–1899). "Czar Reed", as he was called by his opponents,[14] sought to end the obstruction of bills by the minority, in particular by countering the tactic known as the "disappearing quorum".[15] By refusing to vote on a motion, the minority could ensure that a quorum would not be achieved, and that the result would be invalid. Reed, however, declared that m

The power of the speaker was greatly augmented during the tenure of the Republican Thomas Brackett Reed (1889–1891, 1895–1899). "Czar Reed", as he was called by his opponents,[14] sought to end the obstruction of bills by the minority, in particular by countering the tactic known as the "disappearing quorum".[15] By refusing to vote on a motion, the minority could ensure that a quorum would not be achieved, and that the result would be invalid. Reed, however, declared that members who were in the chamber but refused to vote would still count for the purposes of determining a quorum. Through these and other rulings, Reed ensured that the Democrats could not block the Republican agenda.

The speakership reached its apogee during the term of Republican Joseph Gurney Cannon (1903–1911). Cannon exercised extraordinary control over the legislative process. He determined the agenda of the House, appointed the members of all committees, chose committee chairmen, headed the Rules Committee, and determined which committee heard each bill. He vigorously used his powers to ensure that Republican proposals were passed by the House. In 1910, however, Democrats and several dissatisfied Republicans joined together to strip Cannon of many of his powers, including the ability to name committee members and his chairmanship of the Rules Committee.[16] Fifteen years later, Speaker Nicholas Longworth restored much, but not all, of the lost influence of the position.

One of the most influential speakers in history was Democrat Sam Rayburn.[17] Rayburn had the most cumulative time as speaker in history, holding office from 1940 to 1947, 1949 to 1953, and 1955 to 1961. He helped shape many bills, working quietly in the background with House committees. He also helped ensure the passage of several domestic measures and foreign assistance programs advocated by Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

Rayburn's successor, Democrat John W. McCormack (served 1962–1971), was a somewhat less influential speaker, particularly because of dissent from younger members of the Democratic Party. During the mid-1970s, the power of the speakership once again grew under Democrat Carl Albert. The Committee on Rules ceased to be a semi-independent panel, as it had been since 1910. Instead, it once again became an arm of the party leadership. Moreover, in 1975, the speaker was granted the authority to appoint a majority of the members of the Rules Committee. Meanwhile, the power of committee chairmen was curtailed, further increasing the relative influence of the speaker.

Albert's successor, Democrat Tip O'Neill, was a prominent speaker because of his publi

Rayburn's successor, Democrat John W. McCormack (served 1962–1971), was a somewhat less influential speaker, particularly because of dissent from younger members of the Democratic Party. During the mid-1970s, the power of the speakership once again grew under Democrat Carl Albert. The Committee on Rules ceased to be a semi-independent panel, as it had been since 1910. Instead, it once again became an arm of the party leadership. Moreover, in 1975, the speaker was granted the authority to appoint a majority of the members of the Rules Committee. Meanwhile, the power of committee chairmen was curtailed, further increasing the relative influence of the speaker.

Albert's successor, Democrat Tip O'Neill, was a prominent speaker because of his public opposition to the policies of President Ronald Reagan. O'Neill is the longest continually serving speaker, from 1977 through 1987. He challenged Reagan on domestic programs and on defense expenditures. Republicans made O'Neill the target of their election campaigns in 1980 and 1982 but Democrats managed to retain their majorities in both years.

The roles of the parties reversed in 1994 when, after spending forty years in the minority, the Republicans regained control of the House with the "Contract with America", an idea spearheaded by Minority Whip Newt Gingrich. Speaker Gingrich would regularly clash with Democratic President Bill Clinton, leading to the United States federal government shutdown of 1995 and 1996, in which Clinton was largely seen to have prevailed. Gingrich's hold on the leadership was weakened significantly by that and several other controversies, and he faced a caucus revolt in 1997. After the Republicans lost House seats in 1998 (although retaining a majority) he did not stand for a third term as speaker. His successor, Dennis Hastert, had been chosen as a compromise candidate, since the other Republicans in the leadership were more controversial. Hastert played a much less prominent role than other contemporary speakers, being overshadowed by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and President George W. Bush. The Republicans came out of the 2000 elections with a further reduced majority but made small gains in 2002 and 2004. The periods of 2001–2002 and 2003–2007 were the first times since 1953–1955 that there was single-party Republican leadership in Washington, interrupted from 2001–2003 as Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont left the Republican Party to become independent and caucused with Senate Democrats to give them a 51–49 majority.

In the 2006 midterm elections, the Democrats won a majority in the House. Nancy Pelosi became speaker when the 110th Congress convened on January 4, 2007, making her the first woman to hold the office. With the election of Barack Obama as president and Democratic gains in both houses of Congress, Pelosi became the first speaker since Tom Foley to hold the office during single-party Democratic leadership in Washington.[18] During the 111th Congress, Pelosi was the driving force behind several of Obama's major initiatives that proved controversial, and the Republicans campaigned against the Democrats' legislation by staging a "Fire Pelosi" bus tour[19] and regained control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections.[20]

John Boehner was elected speaker when the 112th Congress convened on January 5, 2011, and was subsequently re-elected twice, at the start of the 113th and 114th Congresses. On both of those occasions his remaining in office was threatened by the defection of several members from his own party who chose not to vote for him.[21][22] Boehner's tenure as speaker, which ended when he resigned from Congress in October 2015, was marked by multiple battles with the conservatives in his own party related to "Obama Care," appropriations, among other political issues.[23] This intra-party discord continued under Boehner's successor, Paul Ryan.

Following the 2018 Congressional midterm elections which saw the election of a Democratic Party majority in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi was elected Speaker when the 116th Congress convened on January 3, 2019. When Republican leader John Boehner succeeded her as Speaker in 2011, Pelosi remained the leader of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives and served as House minority leader for eight years before she led her party to victory in the 2018 elections. In addition to being the first woman to hold the office, Pelosi became the first Speaker to return to power since Sam Rayburn in the 1950s.[24]

(116th) US House of Representatives.svg 116th United States Senate.svg