Speaker of the United States House of Representatives

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Speaker of the United States House of Representatives

Speaker's seal

Flag of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.svg
de facto flag of the speaker
Nancy Pelosi
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
Appointed by United States House of Representatives
First incumbent Frederick Muhlenberg
Current incumbent Nancy Pelosi
Creation of office March 4, 1789
Salutation The Honorable (formal)
Mister / Madam Speaker (informal / in the House of Representatives)
Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives pro tempore
Website https://www.speaker.gov

The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives ( English Speaker of the United States House of Representatives ) is the parliamentary speaker of the US House of Representatives , the lower house of Congress . The office of speaker emerged from the English speaker and is defined by the Constitution of the United States . He is elected by the House of Representatives and is its highest-ranking representative.

Although not required by the constitution, the speaker has always been a member of the House of Representatives. Unlike in comparable parliamentary systems, as a member of the majority party, he remains the leader of his own parliamentary group. The speaker usually does not lead the debates, but delegates this task to other MPs. In addition to the tasks that arise from chairing the plenary and the parliamentary group, he also has administrative and procedural functions that are not fixed and historically changeable.

In succession to the President , the Speaker comes second after the Vice-President and before the President Pro Tempore of the Senate , a comparable position in the other Chamber of Congress.

The 63rd incumbent has been Nancy Pelosi of the Democratic Party since January 3, 2019 .


The main role of the speaker is to preside over the meetings of the House of Representatives. As such, he gives the floor to Members of Parliament who wish to speak, announces the items on the agenda and ensures that the rules of the House of Representatives are observed. Often the role of chairman of the session is delegated to other members of the speaker's faction, who then chair the house as pro tempore speakers, but much less than the Vice President of the United States in the Senate does. The speaker also represents the House of Representatives and its decisions outside of parliament.

In addition, various administrative functions are carried out by the spokesperson, such as deciding which bills and resolutions to be discussed and when, and appointing and overseeing various members of the House of Representatives.


Henry Clay used his influence as a spokesman to enforce the templates he supported.

The office of speaker is mentioned in the first article of the United States Constitution. The first speaker was Frederick Muhlenberg , who was elected in the constituent session of the House of Representatives in 1789. The office had little influence until the term of office of the Democrat-Republican Henry Clay (1811-1814, 1815-1820 and 1823-1825). In contrast to many of his predecessors, Clay was not neutral, took part in debates and used his influence as a plantation owner to enforce resolutions that he supported (such as the declaration of war on the British-American War and laws promoting the " American System ") , a protectionist alternative to the classic forms of national economy ). When none of the candidates in the 1824 presidential election achieved an absolute majority and the House of Representatives had to vote, Clay supported John Quincy Adams instead of Andrew Jackson and thus enabled his victory. Clay was then appointed to Adams' cabinet.

With Clay's retreat from politics in 1825, the speaker's political influence diminished again. At the same time, the speaker elections became more controversial. In the growing tensions prior to the Civil War , various factions within the House of Representatives nominated their own candidates, which made it difficult to obtain the necessary absolute majority in the ballots. In both 1855 and 1859, for example, the ballots lasted more than two months before the plenary reached an agreement. In 1855, the House of Representatives changed the rules of procedure once, allowing the election of the speaker by a simple majority, which Nathaniel Prentiss Banks won in the 133rd ballot, which was still a member of the American Party and became the first Republican to serve. The last speaker elections, in which there was more than one vote, took place in 1917 and 1933.

The spokesperson's term of office was usually relatively short; between 1839 and 1863 ten members of parliament held the office. At the end of the 19th century the office regained increasing power and influence. One of the most important sources of power here was the chairmanship of the rules committee, one of the most important permanent committees in the House of Representatives since the reorganization of the committee system in 1880 . In addition, speakers assumed important leadership roles in the party; for example, Samuel J. Randall , John Griffin Carlisle and Charles Frederick Crisp for the Democrats and James G. Blaine , Thomas Brackett Reed and Joseph Gurney Cannon for the Republicans .

Joseph Gurney Cannon is often considered the most influential speaker in House history.

The post was again significantly expanded during the tenure of Republican Thomas Brackett Reed (1889-1891, 1895-1899). "Tsar Reed", as his opponents called him, had the goal of greatly reducing the minority's blocking options, especially the tactic of the "vanishing quorum ". By refusing to take part in a vote, the minority was able to ensure that there was no quorum and therefore the bill could not be adopted. Reed now stated that the quorum is determined by the presence of the MPs and not by their participation in the vote. Through these and other interpretations of the Rules of Procedure, Reed made sure the Democrats couldn't hold up the Republicans' agenda.

The speaker's political influence reached its climax with the Republican Joseph Gurney Cannon (1903-1911). Cannon steered the legislative process in an extraordinary way: he set the agenda of the meetings, determined which MPs worked on which committees, appointed the committee chairmen, chaired the regular committee and determined which committee would deal with drafts. Cannon used his extensive powers to ensure that every Republican bill was passed. In 1910 the Democrats and some disaffected Republicans put an end to these practices. They achieved that the speaker could no longer determine the committee members alone and also no longer preside over the regular committee. Most of these restrictions only lasted 15 years before Nicholas Longworth became a spokesman.

In the mid-20th century, one of the most influential Democrats, Sam Rayburn, was the spokesperson. Rayburn had the longest tenure in the history of the House of Representatives at 17 (1940-1947, 1949-1953 and 1955-1961). He used his chairmanship to influence many bills and worked in the background with many committees. He also helped ensure that key bills endorsed by Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman passed through the House of Representatives.

Newt Gingrich was elected spokesman in 1995 and was the first Republican incumbent since Joseph William Martin in 1955. He did not re-emerge as spokesman in 1999 as many held him responsible for the internal disputes and Republican losses in the 1998 House election . It was expected that Bob Livingston , whom the Republican faction nominated without opposition, would be elected as the new speaker. However, Livingston, who had previously been one of Bill Clinton's loudest critics during the Lewinsky affair , abruptly resigned from his mandate when it became known that he was marital infidelity. Dennis Hastert was elected spokesman.


The constitution provides that the House of Representatives should elect a spokesman and other officials. The speaker is elected after each election to the House of Representatives for the duration of the legislative period, i.e. for two years. The rules of procedure since 1995 stipulate that a spokesman may only be elected for four terms. The speaker does not have to be a member of the House of Representatives, but so far this has been the case for every incumbent.

At the beginning of a new legislative term in Congress (in January of every odd year), the clerk chairs the plenary session until the election of the spokesman is completed. Before the election, the parliamentary groups of both parties nominate a candidate for office, the decision of which is announced by the group chairman in a speech. The clerk then asks each MP alphabetically for their vote. The spokesman was elected secretly until 1983, and open voting has been mandatory ever since. MEPs are not limited to the nominees in their election and can in principle vote for any person. However, since the party affiliation of the speaker has an immense influence on the structuring possibilities of the parliamentary groups, in practice there are only a few deviants. These usually express their rejection of the candidate of their own parliamentary group by electing another member of the party. A vote for the candidate of the other parliamentary group would result in severe sanctions, for example the Democrat James Traficant was removed from all committees in 2001 after he voted for the Republican candidate Dennis Hastert .

After all MPs have voted, the clerk announces the result. To be elected, a candidate must have an absolute majority of the votes cast. If no candidate gets an absolute majority, further ballots are held until a speaker is elected. Usually, however, due to the usual majority in the House of Representatives, one ballot is sufficient and is thus done on the first day of the meeting. After the new speaker has been announced by the clerk, the senior MP, the doyen , takes the oath of office from the new speaker, who then swears all other members of the House of Representatives. The same procedure is followed after the death or resignation of the speaker to determine a successor.

Role in the party

Unlike in many parliaments in the world, the role of the speaker in the House of Representatives is carried out in a partisan way. The speaker is the highest-ranking MP of the majority party, ahead of the Majority Leader and the Majority Whip . He is responsible for ensuring that his party's bills are passed by the House of Representatives. In order to achieve this goal, the speaker uses his powers to determine, for example, when items are to be discussed and voted on. So while the Speaker has important party political functions in the House of Representatives, the Presidency of the United States Senate does not. Its chairman, according to the Constitution, is the Vice President of the United States , for whose absence a President Pro Tempore has been elected; both functions are largely ceremonial. The day-to-day and party political power is exercised there by the party leaders of the Senate , i.e. the parliamentary group chairmen.

When the speaker and the president are from the same party, he usually plays a lesser role in the party and, above all, ensures that the president's agenda is implemented. But when the speaker and the president belong to different parties, the public eye and influence of the speaker increases as he then performs the role of the opposition leader . Because of the American system of government, such a power constellation, also known as divided government , can stall the president's legislative proposals. Examples include Tip O'Neill - in opposition to Ronald Reagan - and Newt Gingrich, who was known for his tough opposition to Bill Clinton. Even Nancy Pelosi embodied the opposition to George W. Bush and Donald Trump and John Boehner that to Barack Obama .


  • Jörg Semmler: The office of Speaker of the House of Representatives in the American system of government (= contributions to parliamentary law. Volume 52). Duncker and Humblot, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-428-10728-4 (also dissertation, University of Göttingen, 2001; preview at Google Books ).
  • Birgit Oldopp: The US political system. An introduction. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2005, pp. 38–40 .

Web links

Commons : Speaker of the United States House of Representatives  - collection of images, videos, and audio files

supporting documents

  1. Speakers of the House (1789 to present). In: history.house.gov. United States House of Representatives, accessed March 16, 2020 .
  2. On the role of Clay see Charles Steward: Architect or Tactician? Henry Clay and the Institutional Development of the US House of Representatives. PDF. Preprint, MIT, August 24, 1998.
  3. Speaker Elections Decided by Multiple Ballots. House of Representatives, History, Art & Archives.
  4. Peter Grier: John Boehner exit: Anyone can run for House speaker, even you. In: The Christian Science Monitor. September 25, 2015, accessed on March 16, 2020 .
  5. ^ Matt Schudel: James A. Traficant Jr., colorful Ohio congressman expelled by House, dies at 73. In: The Washington Post. WP Company LLC, September 27, 2014, accessed March 16, 2020 .
  6. ^ Speakers of the House. Elections, 1913-2019. PDF. Congressional Research Service (as of September 4, 2019), pp. 4 and 16.