Speaker of the United States House of Representatives

Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
Seal of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives.svg
Seal of the Speaker
Flag of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.svg
Flag of the Speaker
Official photo of Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2019.jpg
Incumbent
Nancy Pelosi

since January 3, 2019
United States House of Representatives
Style
  • Madam Speaker/Mr Speaker
    (Informal and within the House)
  • The Honorable
    (Formal)
StatusPresiding officer
SeatUnited States Capitol, Washington, D.C.
NominatorMajor parties (normally)
AppointerThe House
Term lengthAt the House's pleasure; elected at the beginning of the new Congress by a majority of the representatives-elect, and upon a vacancy during a Congress.[1]
Constituting instrumentUnited States Constitution
FormationMarch 4, 1789; 230 years ago (1789-03-04)
First holderFrederick Muhlenberg
April 1, 1789
SuccessionSecond (§ 19)[2]
DeputySpeaker pro tempore
SalaryUS$223,500 annually[3]
Websitewww.speaker.gov

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] Moreover, 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] Nevertheless, 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]