How the Speaker is chosen
As the highest-ranking member of the House, the Speaker is elected by a vote of the members of the House. While it is not required, the Speaker usually belongs to the majority political party. The Constitution does not require that the Speaker be an elected Member of Congress. No non-member has ever been elected Speaker.
The Speaker is elected following each mid-term election held every-other year, and serves a two year term. Along with the title and duties, the Speaker of the House continues to serve as the elected representative from his or her congressional district, and takes part in debate and votes like all other representatives.
Powers duties and privileges of the Speaker
Typically the head of the majority party in the House, the speaker outranks the Majority Leader. The salary of the Speaker is also higher than that of the Majority and Minority Leaders in both the House and Senate.
The Speaker rarely presides over regular meetings of the full House, instead delegating the role to another representative. The Speaker does, however, typically presides over special joint sessions of Congress in which the House hosts the Senate. The Speaker exerts power over the legislative process by setting the House legislative calendar determining when bills will be debated and voted on. The Speaker often utilizes this power to help fulfill his or her responsibility of making sure bills supported by the majority party are passed by the House. The Speaker also serves as chair of the majority party's House steering committee.
Perhaps most clearly indicating the importance of the position, the Speaker of the House stands second only to the Vice President of the United States in the line of presidential succession.
The first Speaker of the House was Frederick Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania, elected during the first session of Congress in 1789. The current Speaker of the House in the 109th Congress is Republican Dennis Hastert, representing the 14th District of Illinois. Hastert was elected Speaker in January 1999. Shortly after the first session of the 110th Congress convenes in January 2007, Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California's 8th District is expected to be elected Speaker of the House. If elected, Pelosi will become the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House.