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5 Quick Facts About the Speaker of the House of Representatives

The impasse over the election of a new speaker of the US House of Representatives continues. Here are five proven facts about the speaker of the House of Representatives.

The Speaker of the House serves as the presiding officer of the U.S. House of Representatives and is responsible for maintaining order and directing the work of the House.

For the third day in a row, Republican lawmakers failed to elect Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as Speaker of the House on Jan. 5 after several rounds of voting. The last time the election of a Speaker required two or more votes in the House was in 1923.

Several VERIFY viewers, including Don and Judith, sent questions to our team about how the speaker of the House of Representatives is elected. Here are five proven quick facts about the position.

SOURCES

WHAT WE FOUND

1. Members of the House may not be sworn in without a Speaker.

According to a report released by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), on the opening day of the new Congress, which usually meets at noon on January 3, the House of Representatives usually follows “an established routine.” These procedures include the election and swearing in of the Speaker of the House, the swearing in of members, the election and swearing in of administrative officers, and the adoption of rules of procedure and various administrative resolutions.

“Once the Speaker is elected, the longest-serving member is sworn in to the Speaker,” according to the U.S. House of Representatives History, Art, and Archives website. “The Speaker, in turn, swears in the rest of the members en masse.”

But if no speaker is elected, new members of the House cannot be sworn in or be sworn in on the floor of the House, in accordance with the United States Code.

Incoming members of the House who are not sworn in may not vote, sit in court, introduce new legislation, or conduct other official business of the House until a Speaker has been selected, in accordance with the House Procedures Manual published by the US Government Press (group policy object).

“Until an elected member signs an oath, he does not enjoy all the rights and prerogatives of a member of Congress,” the leadership of the House of Representatives says.

More from CHECK: There are no official members of the House until the Speaker is sworn in.

2. Even if they are not formally sworn in, newly elected or re-elected members of the House may vote for the Speaker before being sworn in.

Article 1, Section 2 of the US Constitution establishes a two-year term of office for all members of the US House of Representatives. This means that at the conclusion of each biennial Congress, one chamber closes and the new chamber must be sworn in.

But the speaker is the one who swears in new members, and the office is appointed by vote. Members of the new chamber vote, despite the fact that they are not officially initiated.

Former members of the House of Representatives who have not been re-elected cannot vote for a new speaker.

According to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, after convening at the start of a new Congress, the House of Representatives elects the Speaker by roll call. Once the House reaches a quorum, that is, there is a minimum number of members to continue, before voting begins, the respective leaders read aloud the nomination of the speaker from each party.

The Clerk of the House, who presides over hearings to select a new speaker, then appoints legislators from each party as tellers for the vote count. A candidate, to become speaker, needs a majority of the votes of the members of the House of Representatives who are present and voting in order to be elected.

3. The Speaker of the House need not be from the majority party.

The position of Speaker of the House of Representatives does not have to be held by the leader of the majority party. In fact, the Speaker does not even have to be a member of the House of Representatives. A person must be nominated and receive a majority vote only from the members of the House present.

Article 1, Section 2 of the US Constitution states that “The House of Representatives chooses its speaker and other officers”, but it is not clear who can hold this office. However, according to the archives of the House of Representatives, the office of speaker has always been held by a member of the House of Representatives.

The House Procedural Manual published by the United States Government Press (GPO) states that the Speaker is the only officer of the House of Representatives who is “traditionally chosen from among the sitting members of the House.” The constitution does not limit the selection from the current class, “but the practice is unfailingly observed,” the GPO said.

During the 2023 session, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) and Rep. Hakim Jeffreys (DN.Y) were nominated for Speaker of the House along with McCarthy. In past years, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have received votes for Speaker of the House of Representatives.

More from CHECK: No, the Speaker of the House does not have to be from the majority party.

4. A candidate must receive a majority of the votes to become an elected speaker.

A candidate needs a majority of the votes of the members of the House present and voting in order to be elected Speaker. Historically, the magic number was 218 out of 435 members of the House.

“It is a longstanding practice of the House that a numerical majority of votes cast by members ‘for a man by name’ is required to elect a Speaker. This does not mean that a person must necessarily receive a majority (currently 218) from full membership in the House of Representatives,” according to the Congressional Research Service.

Many previous speakers, including outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), filled the position with fewer votes than 218 as some members voted to attend rather than name. Each MP voting “in attendance” reduces the total number of votes required to achieve a majority.

5. If no candidate wins a majority, voting continues until a speaker is elected.

If no candidate obtains the required majority of the votes cast, the roll call is repeated. There are no restrictions on who can receive votes in subsequent ballots.

For example, no candidate is eliminated based on the lowest number of votes in a boardroom election, and a member’s voting rights are not restricted to those who received votes in previous ballots, according to the Congressional Research Service.

According to the archives of the House of Representatives, the 2023 session is only the 15th time in history that multiple roll call votes have been required to vote for the Speaker. Thirteen of these cases occurred before the Civil War, “when party divisions were more nebulous.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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