The Speaker

In both chambers, the members of each party elect a leader who is designated as majority leader or minority leader depending on the party’s status in that chamber. In the House of Representatives there is also the Speaker, who is elected by the entire house. The Speaker is always drawn from the majority party and hence the House majority leader serves as the Speaker’s top lieutenant, running the chamber’s day-to-day business. The Speaker meanwhile operates as a partisan as well as an organisational figure with such powers as referring bills to committees, appointing the majority members of the House Rules Committee, interpreting and enforcing the rules of the House, and appointing select committee and conference committee chairs.

The speaker is responsible for ensuring that the House passes legislation supported by the majority party. In pursuing this goal, the speaker may use their power to determine when each bill reaches the floor. They also chair the majority party's steering committee in the House 

The Constitution does not spell out the political role of the speaker. As the office has developed historically, however, it has taken on a clearly partisan cast, very different from the speakership of most Westminster-style legislatures, such as the speaker of the United Kingdom's House of Commons, which is meant to be scrupulously non-partisan. The speaker in the United States, by tradition, is the head of the majority party in the House of Representatives, outranking the majority leader. However, despite having the right to vote, the speaker usually does not participate in debate.

The speaker is responsible for ensuring that the House passes legislation supported by the majority party. In pursuing this goal, the speaker may use their power to determine when each bill reaches the floor. They also chair the majority party's steering committee in the House. While the speaker is the functioning head of the House majority party, the same is not true of the president pro tempore of the Senate, whose office is primarily ceremonial and honorary.

During the republic’s early years, the speakership gradually gained power. By 1910, Speaker Joe Cannon had centralized power to such an extent that many of his own party members rebelled. Power was redistributed to committees and lower-level party leaders.

By the 1970s, committees had gained such control over legislative outcomes that widespread reforms were adopted, which shifted power back to the speaker.

From 1977 to 1995, three successive Democratic speakers – Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, Jim Wright and Tom Foley – reinvigorated the speakership. They enlarged the party leadership structure, creating wider networks of loyalty among members of the majority party while strengthening support for their priorities.

Today, the role of the speaker is influenced especially by changes instituted by Speaker Newt Gingrich, who took the gavel after the 1994 elections.

When the Speaker is not from the president’s party, they may become a kind of ‘leader of the official opposition’, acting as a spokesperson for the party not currently controlling the White House. Republican Speaker Paul Ryan found himself playing this role to Democratic president Barack Obama throughout 2016. During 2019 and 2020 Democrat Speaker Nancy Pelosi played a similar structural role to Republican president Donald Trump.

October 3rd 2023 -Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was ousted as House speaker after failing to withstand a rebellion among far-right dissidents, as the House voted for the first time in history to remove its leader and entered a period of unpredictability and paralysis. McCarthy later announced he would not seek the position again, setting up an expected intraparty battle for the position second in line to the presidency. 

When McCarthy became speaker in January after a hard-fought battle, he agreed to a demand by Republican opponents that let any lawmaker offer a motion to vacate the speakership and remove him from the job. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) introduced such a motion Tuesday, and eight Republicans joined all Democrats.

McCarthy was not the first recent speaker to find his leadership hectored by a rebellious faction on the right. Two of his predecessors, former speakers John A. Boehner (Ohio) and Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), eventually departed in disgust. Following the removal of Kevin McCarthy as speaker in October 2023 on a motion to vacate (the first time in history that a speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives was successfully removed by the House), Patrick McHenry was revealed to be the first name on McCarthy's list and became acting speaker 

After 22 days of leaderless, gridlocked chaos following the ouster of Kevin McCarthy. Mike Johnson of Louisiana won all 220 Republican votes cast on the House floor .House Republicans  ran through all of their top leaders,  without success then they landed on Mike Johnson as a relatively unknown candidate and therefore least disliked He has allies on the right, he is a fundamentalist Christian and he has also liked and was endorsed by former President Donald Trump.  He therefore represents a victory for the ideologically right-wing, Trump-aligned faction of the Republican Party.

The removal of a sitting speaker has never happened before  in the more-than-240-year history of the House of Representatives. An increasingly radicalized Republican faction that, emboldened since the rise of the tea party, has repeatedly shut down the government and led the country to the brink of a default on its debt. The increased polarization and radicalism in (mostly Republican)  party politics has undermined the traditionally powerful position of the Speaker and given further evidence for the disfunction of Congress.