The Speaker of the House in the US is the leader of the House of Representatives. He or she usually guides the debates occurring in the House, decides on how the House will proceed, and is involved in some administrative duties like announcing final voting counts on issues. In the US, this person is also second in line to take over the presidency after the vice president. Should the president and the vice president be unable to serve, the Speaker would gain the office.
Generally, the majority party elects the speaker, and as such, often the majority party retains control of decisions made on bills that come before the House. Some well known Speakers of the House include Tip O'Neil, Newt Gingrich, Dennis Hastert, and Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to fill the role.
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While theoretically, the Speaker is the leader of the entire House, he or she normally aligns with his or her party in decisions, and helps to advocate for particular rulings the majority party wishes to see passed. This has historically been the case, though a few have shown some bipartisanship in leading the House of Representatives.
Other countries also have some version of the Speaker of the House. The US Speaker is similar to the Speaker for the House of Commons in the UK. The Speaker is only permitted to vote on issues, however, if a vote is tied. The Canadian House and Senate both have speakers as well.
The US Senate does not have a speaker, but instead is often administrated by a presiding officer, who functions much in the same way. Technically, the presiding officer or leader of the Senate is the vice president. Yet, more frequently, he or she is a senator from the majority party. However, as with the House of Commons in the UK, the vice president votes in the Senate only in the case of a tied vote.
Other variants of Speaker of the House may be called President of certain legislative bodies, like President of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. In Ireland, the leader of the lowest house of parliament, Dáil Éireann, is called the Ceann Comhairle. His or her function is similar to that of other speaker positions throughout the world.