Speakers of the House (1789 to present)
Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution states: “The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers...”
The Speaker is the political and parliamentary leader of the House of Representatives. The Constitution mandates the office, but since the early 19th century the House and the individual Speakers have continually redefined its contours. Rooted in British parliamentary practice, the early Speakers limited their roles to presiding over the House and serving as its ceremonial head.
Over time, some Speakers aggressively pursued a policy agenda for the House while others have, in the words of Speaker Schuyler Colfax of Indiana, “come to this chair to administer [the] rules, but not as a partisan.” Regardless, the Speaker—who has always been (but is not required to be) a House Member with the same obligations to his or her constituents like the other 434 Members—is at the levers of power. The Speaker is simultaneously the House’s presiding officer, party leader, and the institution’s administrative head, among other duties.
The Speaker is elected at the beginning of a new Congress by a majority of the Representatives-elect from candidates separately chosen by the majority- and minority-party caucuses. These candidates are elected by their party members at the organizing caucuses held soon after the new Congress is elected. In cases of an unexpected vacancy during a Congress a new Speaker is elected by a majority of the House from candidates previously chosen by the two parties.
The Speaker of the House is by law second in line to succeed the President, after the Vice President, and 25th Amendment makes the Speaker a part of the process announcing presidential disability.
For further information, see the Speakers of the House Resources.