Since the United States was founded, over 50 individuals have served as Speaker of the House—the leading position in the U.S. House of Representatives and third in line for the President of the United States.
Speakers of the House have served for as long as seventeen years and as little as one day.
But how does someone become the Speaker of the House? And what do they do?
There’s actually very little guidance about the position included in the Constitution and over the years the position has evolved.
Every two years at the beginning of every new Congress—or when the Speakership becomes vacant—the Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives will nominate a member of their respective party for the position of Speaker.
At that point, every member of the House of Representatives is called on to vote for one of the two nominees—usually choosing the candidate of their own party. However, members are not forced to vote for either candidate and are allowed to abstain or cast their vote for someone else altogether—even if they’re not an elected official.
Members continue to vote until one of the candidates receives a majority. The last time repeated votes were necessary was 1923, when nine roll call votes were taken.
When the Speaker is elected, they become the head of the U.S. House of Representatives and are tasked with a wide range of duties that give them a lot of power over the law making process—including appointing members to committee posts, determining which bills get to be debated and voted on, keeping decorum in the House chamber and a number of other procedural and administrative responsibilities.
Most importantly, they are a driving force behind new public policy.
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