What Is The Role Of The Speaker Of The House?

The Speaker of the House is one of the most powerful roles in Washington. Find out what they do, and just how powerful they are.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, claps between her two grandsons on stage with House Democrats after speaking about Democratic wins in the House of Representatives to a crowd of Democratic supporters during an election night returns event at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, claps between her two grandsons on stage with House Democrats after speaking about Democratic wins in the House of Representatives to a crowd of Democratic supporters during an election night returns event at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

What Is The Role Of The Speaker Of The House?

The Speaker of the House, an office currently held by Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), is the highest-ranking member of the Legislative Branch of government and second in the line of succession to the presidency behind the vice president. Elected by a majority of the members, as directed by Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution, the role of Speaker has evolved over time.

The modern-day Speaker acts as leader of the majority party, determining the agenda and priorities for the House while fulfilling parliamentary and administrative functions like:

  • Presiding over the House and calling it to order
  • Appointing officers
  • Recognizing Members to speak on the floor
  • Referring matters to committees
  • Bringing matters up to vote
  • Signing all “acts and joint resolutions, writs, warrants, and subpoenas of (or issued to) the House”
  • Negotiating with the President as needed

While the Speaker of the House serves as its highest-ranking officer, the Speaker remains a representative of her constituents, doing the work of her district, in addition to her leadership duties. As per current rules, the Speaker can choose whether to vote in legislative matters.

How Does One Become The Speaker Of The House?

The Speaker of the House is elected by a majority of the Members, as directed in Article 1 Section 2 of the Constitution. The Speaker must win a majority of the Members present at the vote. Once conducted by ballot, now the Members call out their choice for the selection of the Speaker, a process called “vive voce,” in an election that occurs at the start of each new Congress, or every two years.

Though the Speaker does not have to be a Member, all Speakers to date were Members of the House.

What Makes The Speaker Of The House So Powerful?

In addition to being a vice president away from the presidency, the Speaker determines the agenda and priorities for the House. While any member of the House can introduce legislation, the Speaker determines how that legislation is handled and whether it sees a floor vote. In that way, the tone of the House can change dramatically depending upon the Speaker.

In the modern era, former Republican speaker Newt Gingrich (GA), elected to the position in 1995 and enraged by his Democratic predecessor, Texan Jim Wright, created a tone of antagonistic partisanship, setting the House to work solely on the Republican agenda, and focused his leadership efforts on fundraising and campaigns to keep his party in power. The tradition of fundraising continues, regardless of party; Nancy Pelosi brought in more than $80 million prior to regaining the office of Speaker.

With the power of the Speakership, Pelosi determined whether Donald Trump’s actions warranted an impeachment inquiry; her powers also including bringing the Articles of Impeachment to a full vote of the House. She appointed the seven impeachment managers who would prosecute the case in the Senate: Adam Schiff (D-CA), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Val Demings (D-FL), Jason Crow (D-CO), and Sylvia Garcia (D-TX). While the Constitution puts the sole power of impeachment in the hands of the House, the Speaker determines the how and when.

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Who Is The Current Speaker Of The House?

Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is the current Speaker of the House of the 116th Congress, elected by the majority on January 3, 2019. The first–and thus far, only– woman ever to serve as Speaker, Pelosi previously held the title from January 4, 2007, to January 3, 2011, when Republicans gained control.

Pelosi, a fundraising powerhouse and the Speaker who oversaw the passage of the Affordable Care Act, represents California’s 12th district, which includes most of San Francisco. A member of the House since 1987, Pelosi is the 52nd Speaker. She set a progressive agenda for the House, focusing on healthcare, pre-existing condition coverage, drug prices, gun control, climate change, immigration, equality, and elections.

List Of Speakers Of The House

Nancy Pelosi follows a long line of Speakers, many of whom served multiple terms. Since the establishment of the two major political parties:

Democratic

Speaker State Congress Time served
Nancy Pelosi CA 110th, 111th, 116th 2007-2011, 2019-
Thomas S. Foley Washington 101st, 102nd, 103rd 1989–95
James C. Wright, Jr. TX 100th and 101st 1987–89
Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. MA 95th, 96th, 97th, 98th, and 99th 1977–87
Carl B. Albert OK 92nd, 93rd, and 94th 1971–77
John W. McCormack MA 87th, 88th, 89th, 90th, and 91st 1962–71
Samuel T. Rayburn TX 76th, 77th, 78th, 79th, 81st, 82nd, 84th, 85th, 86th, and 87th 1940–47, 1949–53, 1955–61
William Brockman Bankhead AL 74th, 75th, and 76th 1936–40
Joseph Wellington Byrns TN 74th 1935–36
Henry T. Rainey IL 73rd 1933–35
John Nance Garner TX 72nd 1931–33
James Beauchamp Clark MO 62nd, 63rd, 64th, and 65th 1911–19
Charles Frederick Crisp GA 52nd and 53rd 1891–95
John Griffin Carlisle KY 48th, 49th, and 50th 1883–89
Samuel Jackson Randall PA 44th, 45th, and 46th 1876–81
Michael Crawford Kerr IN 44th 1875–76
James Lawrence Orr SC 35th 1857–59

Republican

Speaker State Congress Time Served
Paul Ryan WI 114th and 115th 2015–19
John Boehner OH 112th, 113th, and 114th 2011–15
J. Dennis Hastert IL 106th, 107th, 108th, and 109th 1999–2007
Newt Gingrich GA 104th and 105th 1995–99
Joseph W. Martin, Jr. MA 80th, 83rd 1947–49, 1953–55
Nicholas Longworth OH 69th, 70th, and 71st 1925–31
Frederick Gillett MA 66th, 67th, and 68th 1919–25
Joseph Gurney Cannon IL 58th, 59th, 60th, and 61st 1903–11
David B. Henderson IA 56th and 57th 1899–1903
Thomas Brackett Reed ME 51st, 54th and 55th 1889–91, 1895–99
Joseph Warren Keifer OH 47th 1881–83
James G. Blaine ME 41st, 42nd, and 43rd 1869–75
Schuyler Colfax IN 38th, 39th, and 40th 1863–69
Galusha A. Grow PA 37th 1861–63
William Pennington NJ 36th 1859–61
Theodore Medad Pomeroy NY 40th March 3rd, 1869 – March 4th, 1869

The Rantt Rundown

The Speaker of the House determines the agenda of the legislative body, appoints officers, recognizes Members to speak and is second in the line of succession, in addition to the office’s more administrative tasks. Currently held by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the modern role includes party leadership as well as negotiations with the president. The Speaker is the most powerful member of the Legislative Branch of government, and is elected at the start of each new Congress by a majority of the Members.

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Rantt 101 // Congress