On January 4, 2007, Nancy Pelosi made history when she became the first woman to hold the position of Speaker of the House in the U.S. House of Representatives. On November 17, 2022, Speaker Pelosi announced she would step down from her leadership position, which opened the opportunity for another first in U.S. Congressional history. Hakeem Jeffries, a Congressman from New York, was chosen to succeed Speaker Pelosi as the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, becoming the first black person to lead one of the two major parties in either chamber of Congress. This transition of power amongst House Democrats comes at a time in which even larger changes are happening in the lower house of Congress. Since the Republican party won the majority of House seats in the November mid-term elections, there will be a Republican Speaker of the House in January 2023, the first since 2018.
With all of this change, it begs the questions, “What is the role of the United States Speaker of the House? Why is it important, and how does one become the Speaker of the House?”
The office of Speaker was established in the United States Constitution, specifically within Article I, Section 2, which states “The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker and other Officers…” The Speaker serves as the presiding officer of the U.S. House, and is elected by the House’s members. Though it has never happened, the Constitution does not require that the Speaker be an elected member of Congress, opening to door to a non-elected citizen to serve as House Speaker.
In order to be Speaker of the House, a person needs a majority of the votes from House members who are present and voting at the time of election. Each major party or caucus nominates a candidate. In recent history, these candidates are typically representatives already serving in the two major political parties’ leadership structures. The role of Speaker of the House is a coveted position, as it comes with a number of significant political and governmental powers. For example, the Speaker appoints House committee members, Speakers pro tempore, and the members of the House-Senate conference committees. The Speaker also communicates with the President and U.S. Senate, leads their party conference, and chairs their party’s steering committee, which is involved in the selection of party members for standing committees. Another aspect of the Speakership that holds great weight is its position in the presidential line of succession. The Speaker of the House is third in line to the presidency, only behind the Vice President.
This week’s Current Events resources examine the United States House of Representatives Speaker of the House. The resources shared provide history and context to one of the most important roles in the federal government, and certainly the legislative branch of U.S.
Essential Questions, Vocabulary & Extend the Resources:
- How does someone become the Speaker of the House?
- What duties and responsibilities are assigned to the Speaker of the House?
- How does the Speaker of the House differ from other powerful positions in the U.S. federal government like President, Supreme Court Justice, and Senate Majority leader? Explain.
- In your opinion, why has there never been a non-Congressionally elected citizen to serve as House Speaker?
- How does the Speaker of the House influence national politics and the functioning of the federal government?
- In your opinion, what are the most important aspects of the Speaker of the House position? Explain.
- In your opinion, is the way the House Speaker is determined fair, democratic, and just? Explain.
Click here for a hardcopy of the Essential Questions and House Speaker Vocabulary
Click here for a hardcopy of Extension Activities CLP suggests implementing with this content
Speaker of the House, Civics 101
Democrats rush to pass legislation before Republicans take control of House, PBS Newshour, November 29, 2022
What’s The Difference Between The House & The Senate?, Civics 101
- Speakers of the House (1789 to Present), United States House of Representatives
- United States Speaker of the House, Ballotpedia
- Article I, Section 2, The United States Constitution
- How the Speaker of the House gets picked, PBS News Hour
- What Does the Speaker of the House Do?, MasterClass
- In a Show of Unity, House Democrats Elect Hakeem Jeffries Minority Leader, The New York Times, November 30, 2022
- Live updates: McCarthy offers concessions as battle for House speaker job drags into day three, USA Today, January 3, 2023
- How Biden is navigating his rocky relationship with California’s top Republican
, Los Angeles Times, November 30, 2022
- Factbox: How will the U.S. House of Representatives choose a new speaker?, Reuters, November 16, 2022
- Five new members of the House of Representatives to watch, The Guardian, November 25, 2022
- House Republicans Face a Triple Threat, The New York Times, November 30, 2022
- Our View editorial: Republicans should tread carefully, The Herald Bulletin, November 27, 2022
- Debt ceiling must not become GOP hostage (Editorial), Mass Live, November 27, 2022
- Speaker of the House: Lesson Plan, Academy 4SC
- Getting to Know the House, Kids in the House, Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives
- The Roles of Congressional Leadership Positions, C-SPAN Classroom
- Model Congress Project, The Bill of Rights Institute
Instructional Materials for Younger Students:
- The Powers of Congress, Newsela
- Election Takeaways, Text Set, Newsela
- What is Congress? Kids in the House, Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives
- Congress in a Flash! Nearpod