The Speaker of the House is one of the most powerful voices in the U.S. government's legislative branch, as well as in state legislatures. The leader of the national House of Representatives and second in the line of succession to the presidency, the speaker sets political agendas and advocates both on Capitol Hill and to the public. At the state level, the Speaker of the House often appoints committees and chair persons, as well as maintaining the correct parliamentary procedures.
The Speaker of the House's official role is to lead and represent Congress's House of Representatives, calling sessions to order and moderating debate on the House floor. However, according to C-SPAN, the speaker spends the majority of her time in meetings and negotiations, planning the chamber's legislative agenda. The speaker also has the power to appoint committee and subcommittee chairs. Along with the vice president, the House Speaker is also responsible for signing bills to be presented to the president for signing. For this reason, the speaker often negotiates with the executive branch and can be a powerful force for or against the executive branch's own political agenda.
The Speaker of the House is elected by the House's current party majority so, to become speaker of the House, a person must first be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Article 1 Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states that representatives must be more than 25 years old and have been a U.S. citizen for more than seven years. The prospective representative should also live in the state in which he is running. House speakers generally have some policy-making experience. Because the position requires meetings, negotiations and public appearances, the Speaker of the House usually has excellent leadership, communication and collaborative skills.
Past Speaker Experience
While no explicit educational or professional prerequisites exist for the speaker of the House, or for any representative, the positions are elected and require considerable good faith in past experiences and successes. For example, Speaker Nancy Pelosi represented California's Eighth District in the State House of Representatives. She later served briefly as House Minority Whip. Newt Gingrich, an earlier Speaker, had a 12-year career as a U.S. Representative and helped define Republican strategy as the minority whip during three congressional sessions spanning 1989 to 1995.
Types of Speakers
The United States has had 60 different Speakers of the House, and what both differentiates and unites them is their status either for or against the executive administration. Those who support the executive administration can be a powerful ally in passing policy, such as the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009. Others are powerful checks to executive power; Gingrich fought against Democratic President Bill Clinton during his tenure as speaker of the House.
Working With the House of Representatives
Holding office is probably the straightest route to the position of House of Representatives, but those seeking inside experience can search vacancies at the U.S. House of Representatives website for vacancies for a number of positions and vacancies from staff assistant to the Office of the Law Revision Counsel to Financial Services. For those looking to understand the inner workings of the House of Representatives before running for office, this route may be beneficial in making connections and understanding the functioning of the government body.