Speaker of the United States House of Representatives

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The Speaker of the House of Representatives is the presiding officer of the United States House of Representatives. The Speaker is currently second (after the Vice President) in line to succeed to the U.S. presidency in the case of death or resignation of the President.

The current Speaker is Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California.

Contents

Selection and role

The office is provided for in the United States Constitution in the second section of the first article, which states:

"The House of Representatives shall chuse [sic] their Speaker and other Officers..."

In practice, the speaker is always chosen from amongst sitting house members (to date, all Speakers have been members of the House), but this is not strictly required by the Constitution. The speaker is almost always elected along strictly partisan lines, and is thus a member of the House's majority party. A Representative who does not vote for his or her party's leader as Speaker may be deprived of committee assignments. Once elected, a Speaker is sworn in by the Dean of the House.

The Speaker is considered a partisan officer, unlike the nonpartisan Speaker of such bodies as the British House of Commons. While there is a majority leader in the House of Representatives, he is in fact the second highest officer of the majority, and the Speaker is in fact the functioning leader of the majority. However, it is customary for the Speaker not to vote, unless his vote is necessary to pass a bill.

Powers

The Speaker is chair of his party's steering committee, which appoints the chairmen of standing committees. The Speaker refers bills to committees, appoints majority of the Rules Committee and create ad-hoc committees and appoint to them. The Speaker also appoints members of conference committees based a list proposed by the chairman and ranking member of the relevant committee.

Unlike the President of the Senate, who may only vote in the event of a tie, the Speaker can cast a floor vote, although traditionally he only casts a vote if it breaks or creates a tie. Normally, the Speaker does not preside over every debate. Instead, he or she delegates the responsibility of presiding to other members in most cases. The presiding officer sits in a chair in the front of the House chamber. The powers of the presiding officer are extensive; one important power is that of controlling the order in which members of the House speak. No member may make a speech or a motion unless he or she has first been recognized by the presiding officer. Moreover, the presiding officer may rule on any "point of order" (a member's objection that a rule has been breached), but the decision is subject to appeal to the whole House.

Role in "Loyal Opposition"

The speaker of the House is ceremonially the highest ranking legislative official in the United States government. He is generally a well-known national figure, and thus a human "face" on the legislative branch.

Since the Speaker and the President are often from different parties, this can sometimes lead to situtations in which the two officials are at odds with each other. The Speaker can thus come to be seen as the leader of the "opposition", the symbol of his party, and the very personification of partisan opposition to the President's agenda. Recent examples of this include Newt Gingrich, who fought a bitter war for control of domestic policy with Bill Clinton, and Tip O'Neill, who sought to restrain Ronald Reagan. When the President is from the party which controls the House of Representatives, the Speaker normally takes a somewhat less prominent role in public affairs; in recent times, Speaker Dennis Hastert has played a very low-key role.

The Speaker is also a much more politically active figure than many of his counterparts in other countries. Although he has little formal power, throughout American history the speakership has evolved into one of the nation's key political positions. The latent potential power of the Speakership was first developed by Henry Clay, and reached its apogee nearly a century later under Joseph Cannon.

Speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1789–present

Speaker Party State Term of service
1. Frederick A.C. Muhlenberg Federalist Pennsylvania 1789–1791
2. Jonathan Trumbull, Jr. Federalist Connecticut 1791–1793
3. Frederick A.C. Muhlenberg Democratic-Republican Pennsylvania 1793–1795
4. Jonathan Dayton Federalist New Jersey 1795–1799
5. Theodore Sedgwick Federalist Massachusetts 1799–1801
6. Nathaniel Macon Democratic-Republican North Carolina 1801–1807
7. Joseph Bradley Varnum Democratic-Republican Massachusetts 1807–1811
8. Henry Clay Democratic-Republican Kentucky 1811–1814
9. Langdon Cheves Democratic-Republican South Carolina 1814–1815
10. Henry Clay Democratic-Republican Kentucky 1815–1820
11. John W. Taylor Democratic-Republican New York 1820–1821
12. Philip Pendleton Barbour Democratic-Republican Virginia 1821–1823
13. Henry Clay Democratic-Republican Kentucky 1823–1825
14. John W. Taylor Democratic-Republican New York 1825–1827
15. Andrew Stevenson Jacksonian Virginia 1827–1834
16. John Bell Whig Tennessee 1834–1835
17. James Knox Polk Democratic Tennessee 1835–1839
18. Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter Whig Virginia 1839–1841
19. John White Whig Kentucky 1841–1843
20. John Winston Jones Democrat Virginia 1843–1845
21. John Wesley Davis Democrat Indiana 1845–1847
22. Robert Charles Winthrop Whig Massachusetts 1847–1849
23. Howell Cobb Democrat Georgia 1849–1851
24. Linn Boyd Democrat Kentucky 1851–1855
25. Nathaniel Prentiss Banks American/Republican Massachusetts 1856–1857
26. James Lawrence Orr Democrat South Carolina 1857–1859
27. William Pennington Republican New Jersey 1860–1861
28. Galusha A. Grow Republican Pennsylvania 1861–1863
29. Schuyler Colfax Republican Indiana 1863–1869
30. Theodore Medad Pomeroy Republican New York 1869
31. James G. Blaine Republican Maine 1869–1875
32. Michael C. Kerr Democrat Indiana 1875–1876
33. Samuel J. Randall Democrat Pennsylvania 1876–1881
34. J. Warren Keifer Republican Ohio 1881–1883
35. John Griffin Carlisle Democrat Kentucky 1883–1889
36. Thomas Brackett Reed Republican Maine 1889–1891
37. Charles Frederick Crisp Democrat Georgia 1891–1895
38. Thomas Brackett Reed Republican Maine 1895–1899
39. David B. Henderson Republican Iowa 1899–1903
40. Joseph Gurney Cannon Republican Illinois 1903–1911
41. Champ Clark Democrat Missouri 1911–1919
42. Frederick H. Gillett Republican Massachusetts 1919–1925
43. Nicholas Longworth Republican Ohio 1925–1931
44. John Nance Garner Democrat Texas 1931–1933
45. Henry T. Rainey Democrat Illinois 1933–1934
46. Joseph Wellington Byrns Democrat Tennessee 1935–1936
47. William Brockman Bankhead Democrat Alabama 1936–1940
48. Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn Democrat Texas 1940–1947
49. Joseph William Martin, Jr. Republican Massachusetts 1947–1949
50. Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn Democrat Texas 1949–1953
51. Joseph William Martin, Jr. Republican Massachusetts 1953–1955
52. Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn Democrat Texas 1955–1961
53. John William McCormack Democrat Massachusetts 1961–1971
54. Carl Albert Democrat Oklahoma 1971–1977
55. Tip O'Neill Democrat Massachusetts 1977–1987
56. Jim Wright Democrat Texas 1987–1989
57. Thomas Stephen Foley Democrat Washington 1989–1995
58. Newton L. Gingrich Republican Georgia 1995–1999
59. J. Dennis Hastert Republican Illinois 1999–2006
60. Nancy Pelosi Democrat California 2006–present

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