Featured US History and Constitution
Bethanne Kim  

The Speaker of the House

The highest ranking member of the House of Representatives is the Speaker of the House. The Congress specifies that the House “shall choose their Speaker and other Officers.” It does not specify that they must be a member of the House of Representatives, but every one so far has been.

The simple fact is this: A person who used to be in the House but was defeated in the last election or retired could be chosen to be Speaker.  A previous Speaker could be brought back as Speaker, again, even if they were retired. A popular news anchor could be chosen. Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger could be chosen. Quite literally, any person could be selected as Speaker of the House.

The Speaker is actually a powerful position. The Speaker decides what bills get to the House floor for a vote, for example. If the Speaker had opposed Obamacare, they could have kept it from going to the floor for a vote – that’s how much power they have.

The Speaker is also third in line for the Presidency. In the unprecedented event that the President and Vice President both die (or are forced out of office, as Nixon was), the Speaker will become the new President, as long as he or she is a “natural born” US citizen.

This has never happened, but what would happen if someone like the foreign-born Arnold Schwarzenegger was Speaker and the POTUS (President of the US) and VP were both dead or forced out of office? Do you think more consideration should be given to this aspect when a Speaker or chosen, or do you think it’s so unlikely that it would be silly / a waste of time to consider it at all?

Since it has never happened and is extremely unlikely to ever happen, this aspect is generally ignored when the Speaker is chosen. The Speaker is the winner of a majority of votes in the House at the start of a new session. In practice, this means that the party with the most members chooses the Speaker. Once chosen, they are normally re-elected until they choose to step down or their party stops being the majority.

They are addressed as Mr. Speaker or Madame Speaker even after they leave office, just as former Presidents continues to be addressed as Mr. President.

The next time someone brings ups the position of the Speaker of the House, what will you bring to the conversation?

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