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Speaker Q&A

January 05, 2007

Nancy Pelosi is the 52nd person to be speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. She is the first woman and the first representative from California to hold the job.

What is the House

speaker?

The speaker's job was created in the Constitution, but not described. The title probably was borrowed from the British House of Commons. The speaker presides over the House and is the leader of the majority party (currently the Democrats). Typically, that makes the speaker the most recognizable House member. All three House office buildings are named for former speakers: Joseph G. Cannon (R-Ill.), Nicholas Longworth (R-Ohio) and Sam Rayburn (D-Texas).

What does the speaker

do?

The politicians who have held the job have put their own stamp on it, but the speaker's primary role is to lead the House. On the floor, the speaker has the authority to recognize members who wish to speak or make motions, though this role is often temporarily delegated to other members. The speaker is also responsible for setting the majority party's legislative agenda and negotiating with the president, but traditionally refrains from debating or voting in most circumstances.

Are there specific qualifications to be speaker?

No. The Constitution says the president and vice president must be natural-born citizens and at least 35 years old, but it is silent on the speaker. Theoretically, the speaker does not need to be a member of the House, but all of them have been.

Where is the speaker in the line of succession?

Since 1947, the speaker has been second in line to become president, after the vice president. No speaker, however, has ever ascended to the presidency.

Who served longest as speaker?

Sam Rayburn served the longest in total: 17 years, interrupted twice when Republicans took over the House. Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, a Massachusetts Democrat, holds the record for the longest continuous service: 10 years.

Who served shortest?

Theodore M. Pomeroy, a New York Republican, served just one day, March 3, 1869. He succeeded Indiana Republican Schuyler Colfax, who resigned a day before his term expired to become vice president.

Source: Times research

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