There has been mention in the news lately – as the Republicans search desperately for someone who actually wants to be Speaker of their House – that you don’t actually have to be a member of Congress to be the Speaker of the House.
Can this possibly be true?
Remarkably, though this may seem completely counterintuitive, it is true.
That’s why names like Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and even 92-year old Bob Dole have been floated as potential Speakers.
Here’s what the Office of the Clerk of the United States House of Representatives has to say on the matter:
Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states, “The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers.”
Although the Constitution does not require the Speaker to be a Member of the House, all Speakers have been Members.
When a Congress convenes for the first time, each major party conference or caucus nominates a candidate for Speaker. Members customarily elect the Speaker by roll call vote. A Member usually votes for the candidate from his or her own party conference or caucus but can vote for anyone, whether that person has been nominated or not.
To be elected, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of the votes cast—which may be less than a majority of the full House because of vacancies, absentee Members, or Members who vote “present.” If no candidate receives the majority of votes, the roll call is repeated until a majority is reached and the Speaker is elected.
Of course, if someone like Gingrich, Romney or Dole were elected Speaker, they obviously could not vote as a Representative.
The current crisis is hardly the first for House Speaker. As the Clerk’s website also notes, the longest election for speaker involved Nathaniel P. Banks of Massachusetts, who was elected Speaker on February 2, 1856 after more than two months and 133 ballots.
So we still have a ways to go.
Stephen Colbert did a nice job lampooning the current crisis and the fact that literally no one in House currently wants to be Speaker, including the much sought after boy-wonder Paul Ryan.