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Explaining the Speaker of the House

The speaker of the House has a critical role in Congress. The United States Government Publishing Office notes key pieces of the speaker’s job description.

The speaker “maintains order, manages its [the House’s] proceedings, and governs the administration of its business”. Importantly, the speaker intends to conduct this job in an impartial manner to “protect the rights of the minority.”

Once elected, the speaker works as a sort of moderator, ensuring that the House runs smoothly and facilitating cooperation. In the event of gridlock, or a threat of a government shutdown, order and cooperation become critical.

Additionally, if a bill does come to the House floor, it is the speaker’s job to head the voting and passing of the bill. In the event that there is no speaker, an individual is elected speaker pro tempore as a temporary replacement until a new one is chosen.

The speaker of the House is elected by the majority party. In the current House of Representatives, the Republican Party has a 9-seat majority.

The process for electing a speaker begins when the majority party moves to select a nominee. There are no limits to who can be nominated for the position. Hypothetically, anyone can be chosen, even an individual who is not a member of Congress. This has never happened, but the possibility remains.

Once a nominee is selected, the majority party must cast a majority vote (more than 50% of the members) to formally push the nominee to the House floor. The minority party also selects a nominee for voting. Recently, Hakeem Jeffries received national attention as the Democratic nominee.

Once the nominees are formally pushed to the floor, the entire House must vote to determine who will be speaker. Sometimes this is just a formality. After all, if the majority party votes in unison, its nominee will automatically pass.

There have been exceptions. Recently, in the reelection for speaker, Representative Jim Jordan was nominated by the Republican Party. In the first round of voting, Jordan received 200 votes, while Jeffries received 212. Various other Republicans received the leftover Republican votes.

As such, neither Jordan nor Jeffries received a majority. Jeffries was close, but 212/433 available members is only 49%. When something like this happens, another round of voting must occur. In an extreme case, the election of Kevin McCarthy for speaker took 15 rounds of voting.

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