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