Wednesday, December 6th 2023, 4:44 pm
Two months after his historic ouster as House speaker, Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy announced Wednesday that he is resigning from his congressional seat in California.
His announcement capped a stunning end for the one-time deli owner from Bakersfield, who ascended through state and national politics to become second in line to the presidency before a contingent of hard-right conservatives engineered his removal in October.
McCarthy is the only speaker in history to be voted out of the job.
Related Story: Representative Mike Johnson Elected As Speaker Of The House
It had taken McCarthy 15 rounds in January over multiple days of voting before he secured the support of his colleagues to gain the gavel.
Donald Trump, the former president who is the Republican front-runner in the 2024 race to challenge President Joe Biden, had complained about the chaos. “
Why is it that Republicans are always fighting among themselves,” he asked on social media.
Not only is the speaker the presiding officer of the United States House of Representatives but they are also second in the United States presidential line of succession, after the vice president.
History was made on October 3, 2023, when Kevin McCarthy was removed as speaker on a motion to vacate the position. McCarthy was the 55th Speaker of the House and the first to be successfully removed.
In all, 54 men and one woman have held the role, 22 Democrats, 17 Republicans. Several early parties also had members serve as speakers before the formation of the two current parties, including Whigs, Jacksonians, Federalists, Democratic-Republicans, National Republicans, Pro-Admin, Anti-Admin, and the American Party.
While the United States has changed greatly since Frederick Muhlenberg first assumed the role in 1789, the role of the Speaker has maintained an important role for the majority party within the House of Representatives.
The Speaker is often seen as a de facto leader of their party when the executive branch is held by the opposite party.
The Speaker of the House is the presiding officer of the House of Representatives which means they are in charge of maintaining order, managing its proceedings, and governing the administration of its business. The Speaker is responsible for understanding and applying the House rules, including recognizing members who wish to address the body and putting questions on matters arising on the floor to a vote, according to House Practice.
The speaker is allowed to participate in a vote, as a member of the House, though this usually only happens when the speaker's vote is decisive such as constitutional amendments. The Speaker also appoints the House's general counsel, parliamentarian, historian, and inspector general. The Speaker also receives reports from government agencies, boards, commissions, and the president.
On the administrative side, the Speaker also oversees the House Office Building Commission which is responsible for the operation and regulation of physical house buildings. Which includes the House itself, Committee rooms of the House, garages, cafeterias, a power plant, and a dorm for Congressional pages.
From a constitutional perspective role is not stated to be a political role, but historically it has become extremely partisan with the Speaker serving as the voice of the majority party in the House. Traditionally the Speaker prioritizes legislation supported by the majority party and may use their power to determine when each bill reaches the floor.
When the Speaker and the President are from the same party the role has been seen as an aide to the executive branch. The Speaker in this light, helps bring the President's agenda to fruition such as in the case of Nancy Pelosi's push for healthcare reform during the Presidency of Barack Obama or Dennis Hastert's work with President George W. Bush on the Iraq War and the Patriot Act.
In recent history, however, it has more often been the case that the Speaker and President are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. In these cases, the Speaker becomes the leading public opponent of the president's agenda.
Recent examples include Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Presidents Bush and Trump, John Boehner and President Obama, and mostly recently Kevin McCarthy and President Biden.
Under the Rules of the House, the Speaker may designate a member to serve as speaker pro tempore, acting as the body's presiding officer in the speaker's absence. When Kevin McCarthy was removed as Speaker, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-North Carolina, became speaker pro tempore.
The Speaker of the House may designate a member to serve as the speaker pro tempore or "acting speaker" during the absence of the speaker. According to the Rules of the House, the speaker pro tempore designation lasts for no more than three legislative days, although in the case of illness of the speaker, the speaker pro tempore may serve for ten legislative days if the appointment is approved by the House.
Normally, during these times the speaker pro tempore presides over the body as the Speaker would.
The role gained new interest when the office of speaker was declared vacant after the removal of Kevin McCarthy. After they are elected, current Rules of the House require the Speaker to create a secret ordered list of members to temporarily serve as speaker of the House if the speakership becomes vacant. The list is then revealed in the event of a vacancy due to the speaker's death, resignation, incapacitation, or removal from office in McCarthy's case.
Following the removal of McCarthy on October 3rd, North Carolina Representative Patrick McHenry became acting speaker. McHenry was the first name on McCarthy's prepared list. Though the speaker pro tempore serves the role of Speaker during a vacancy they are not in the line of presidential succession.
The Constitution does not explicitly state that the speaker must be a current member of the House or even a past member. While every person elected speaker has been a member of the House, in theory, anyone in America can be nominated or elected to the role. The only real requirement is that they are nominated by members of the House.
However, the premise of a non-elected official remains a topic of debate with many questioning the protocols of a Speaker who is bound by oath to the constitution. According to PBS, recent non-house members who received votes to become House Speaker include then-former Vice President Joe Biden, Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky.
Ultimately, you need a majority vote to become Speaker. In recent history, the number to reach has been 218 votes out of the 435 members of the House.
According to the Presidential Line of Succession, which is laid out both in the Constitution and the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, the Speaker of the House is second in line behind the Vice President in the event that the president can not carry out the duties of the office.
The President may be replaced if they were to die, be incapacitated, resign, or be removed from office.
The full line succession is:
After the removal of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House, a gap was left in the line of succession. This means that until a new speaker is named, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Patty Murray is second in line behind Vice President Kamala Harris.
To date, a Speaker of the House has never ascended to the role of President, and the ratification of the 25th Amendment in 1967, has made it an unlikely outcome except in the aftermath of a catastrophic event.
Some may be under the impression that the Vice President also has a line of succession or that everyone simply bumps up a spot in the case of a removal but this is not the case.
As laid out in the 25th amendment, if the Vice President were to be removed for any reason, the President nominates a new Vice President which is then confirmed by a majority vote by both Houses of Congress. If the Vice President assumes the office of President they then are given that same power to nominate their replacement.
Which could be the Speaker of the House, but is not required to be so.
After the amendment went into effect in 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned. Speaker Carl Albert of Oklahoma was then for two months first in line to become acting president until Gerald Ford was sworn in as vice president.
Albert was also next in line from the time Ford assumed the presidency following Nixon's resignation from office in 1974. Until Ford's choice to succeed him as vice president, Nelson Rockefeller was confirmed by Congress.
While no Speaker has ever become President via succession, James K. Polk was elected President of the United States in 1845 and is the only former Speaker of the House to do so.
Yes, as previously mentioned Representative Carl Albert (D-Oklahoma) served three terms as the 46th Speaker of the House from 1971 to 1977. All in all, 55 people from 23 states have served as Speaker of the House. Massachusetts has had the most representatives hold the role with eight.
Yes, as of 2023 five people have died in office while Speaker of the House: Michael C. Kerr of Indiana, Henry T. Rainey of Illinois, Joseph W. Byrns of Tennessee, William B. Bankhead of Alabama, Samuel Rayburn of Texas.
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