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What is the Speaker of the House?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Speaker of the House in the US is the leader of the House of Representatives. He or she usually guides the debates occurring in the House, decides on how the House will proceed, and is involved in some administrative duties like announcing final voting counts on issues. In the US, this person is also second in line to take over the presidency after the vice president. Should the president and the vice president be unable to serve, the Speaker would gain the office.

Generally, the majority party elects the speaker, and as such, often the majority party retains control of decisions made on bills that come before the House. Some well known Speakers of the House include Tip O'Neil, Newt Gingrich, Dennis Hastert, and Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to fill the role.

While theoretically, the Speaker is the leader of the entire House, he or she normally aligns with his or her party in decisions, and helps to advocate for particular rulings the majority party wishes to see passed. This has historically been the case, though a few have shown some bipartisanship in leading the House of Representatives.

Other countries also have some version of the Speaker of the House. The US Speaker is similar to the Speaker for the House of Commons in the UK. The Speaker is only permitted to vote on issues, however, if a vote is tied. The Canadian House and Senate both have speakers as well.

The US Senate does not have a speaker, but instead is often administrated by a presiding officer, who functions much in the same way. Technically, the presiding officer or leader of the Senate is the vice president. Yet, more frequently, he or she is a senator from the majority party. However, as with the House of Commons in the UK, the vice president votes in the Senate only in the case of a tied vote.

Other variants of Speaker of the House may be called President of certain legislative bodies, like President of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. In Ireland, the leader of the lowest house of parliament, Dáil Éireann, is called the Ceann Comhairle. His or her function is similar to that of other speaker positions throughout the world.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon143064 — On Jan 14, 2011

the speaker of the house holds that position for two years.

By anon71763 — On Mar 19, 2010

Isn't the speaker of the house appointed by the president, in this case it was president bush?

By anon40353 — On Aug 07, 2009

How can the speaker of the house be removed?

By anon31559 — On May 07, 2009

How much longer will Pelosi be in office?

By anon27259 — On Feb 25, 2009

How long does the speaker of the house hold that position?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia...
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