Introduction

The House of Representatives includes 435 members, each with their own political beliefs and opinions. They propose, debate, and amend bills, can impeach the president, and are responsible for several other government functions. Someone is needed to preside over House proceedings and be the spokesperson for the chamber. 

That person is the Speaker of the House. 

Speaker of the House

The Speaker of the House is the presiding officer of the House of Representatives. The Speaker represents the majority party, establishes the legislative agenda, appoints members of committees, manages the floor, and has several other responsibilities. The Speaker is second in line for the presidency. 

How It Works

The Speaker is elected at the beginning of a new session of Congress. Members of the Democratic party caucus and Republican party conference elect candidates to be considered. Then, all members of the House elect the Speaker through a roll call vote. A candidate must win an absolute majority of the total votes cast to win. If no one wins a majority, the House repeats the roll call vote until someone does. 

The Speaker has several responsibilities. They are the spokesperson for the majority party, meaning they articulate the party agenda and help push their party’s legislative priorities by choosing which bills to bring to the House floor for debate. When the president belongs to a different party, the Speaker is the highest-ranking member of the opposition party. 

They also oversee assignments to House committees. They are the chair of their party’s steering committee, which helps appoint members of standing, or permanent, committees. The Speaker chooses who serves on conference committees, which are composed of both House and Senate members, and select committees, which are created for particular purposes. They also help appoint members to the Committee on the Budget, Committee on Rules, and the Committee on House Administration. The Speaker is in charge of several appointments outside of committees, too: they select the speakers pro tempore, who preside over the chamber if the Speaker is absent, and some House staff. 

The Speaker manages the floor and keeps order in the House. They choose which bills are debated by the full House. During floor proceedings, they recognize members to speak or make motions. Speakers typically do not participate in debates themselves, although they are allowed to.

Additionally, the Speaker is second in line for the presidency. If both the president and vice president are unable to complete their duties, the Speaker will become president. 

Applying It

Since 1789, 54 individuals have served as Speaker of the House. Several of them helped shape the position into what it is today. For example, in 1910, Speaker Joseph Gurney Cannon centralized his power so much that members of his own Republican party pushed back and limited the influence of the position. In 1994, Speaker Newt Gingrich heightened the partisanship of the position and gave himself greater power in policy making. When Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California’s 12th congressional district, was elected in 2007, she became the first woman to hold the position. After being elected to the Speakership again in 2018, she led the opposition to the Trump presidency, supporting his impeachment proceedings in 2019 and 2020. 

The Speaker of the House holds immense influence over the legislative priorities of the House, giving them a significant say in what the country prioritizes. The Speaker advances their party’s ideology, both checks and supports the president, and works to make sure the American people’s voices and priorities are heard and addressed.

    Learn More

    1. Caufield, Rachel. “What Does the Speaker of the House Do?” The Conversation, 10 Oct. 2019, theconversation.com/what-does-the-speaker-of-the-house-do-94884.
    2. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 26 Dec. 2019, www.britannica.com/topic/Speaker-of-the-US-House-of-Representatives.
    3. “Speakers of the House (1789 to Present).” Speakers of the House | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives, history.house.gov/People/Office/Speakers/.
    4. “United States Speaker of the House.” Ballotpedia, ballotpedia.org/United_States_Speaker_of_the_House.

    Think Further

    1. What do you think is the most important responsibility of the Speaker?
    2. Do you think the Speaker should be a partisan figure? Does the Speaker seem too powerful?
    3. Why is it important that the Speaker has a large say in which members serve on different committees?

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