Clerk of the United States House of Representatives
|Clerk of the United States House of Representatives|
|Appointer||Elected by the House|
|Term length||Pleasure of the House (nominally a two-year Congress)|
|Inaugural holder||John Beckley|
|Website||Office of the Clerk|
The Clerk of the United States House of Representatives is an officer of the United States House of Representatives, whose primary duty is to act as the chief record-keeper for the House.
Along with the other House officers, the Clerk is elected every two years when the House organizes for a new Congress. The majority and minority caucuses nominate candidates for the House officer positions after the election of the Speaker. The full House adopts a resolution to elect the officers, who will begin serving after they have taken the oath of office.
The clerk is Cheryl L. Johnson, of Louisiana. She replaced Karen Haas at the beginning of the 116th Congress. Robert Reeves is Deputy Clerk and Gigi Kelaher is Senior Advisor to the Clerk. On December 29, 2018, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi named Cheryl Johnson to succeed Haas as Clerk. Johnson was elected by the House of Representatives on February 25, 2019, as per House Resolution 143 and took the oath of office shortly after the passage of the resolution on the same day.
The Constitution of the United States states in Article 1, Section 2, “The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers...” On April 1, 1789, when the House of Representatives convened with its first quorum, its initial order of business was the election of the Speaker, Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg, a Representative from Pennsylvania. The next order of business was the election of the Clerk, John Beckley, Esquire, a citizen of Virginia.
The first five Clerks of the House also served as Librarian of Congress, which became a separate position in 1815. South Trimble, a former Representative from Kentucky, who served as Clerk from 1911 to 1919 and again from 1931 to 1946, is the longest-tenured Clerk in House history.
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House of Representatives
|Politics and procedure|
Organization of House
Every two years regular congressional elections are held. Only one-third of Senators' terms expire at each of these elections, but the terms of office of the entire House end. The Senate has remained in constant existence since it first went into session in 1789 but the House goes out of existence (and hence a "new" Congress takes office) every two years.
To preserve the legal continuity of the House, the existence of the House is vested in the Clerk at the end of each two-year term. Thus, when the newly elected members of the House gather on January 3, it is the Clerk of the previous House who summons Representatives and convenes the new Congress for the first time. Accordingly, the Clerk calls the House to order by gaveling it into session. After a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, the clerk then calls the roll of representatives-elect, which is done as an electronic quorum call in the modern era, and then oversees the election of a Speaker. During these processes, the Clerk must "preserve order and decorum and decide all questions of order," which is subject to appeal.
The Speaker is then sworn in, takes the chair, administers oaths to the rest of the of members-elect, and the House then proceeds with other business (which includes electing a Clerk for the new session). Were the House not to vest such personality in the Clerk of the previous House, there would be no authority empowered to convene the session and lead the House in its first few acts.
Disputes in 19th century
In the 19th century, the power of the preceding House Clerk to organize the House played a significant role at the beginning of several congresses. Following the 1838 elections, at the first meeting of the 26th Congress in December 1839, House Clerk Hugh Garland omitted the names of five Whigs from New Jersey from the roll call. After days of debate, the Whigs were not seated, effectively creating a Democratic majority in a closely divided House. Only then was the roll call completed and a Speaker elected.:15–17
In 1863, at the beginning of the 38th Congress during the Civil War, House Clerk Emerson Etheridge called the roll, excluding 16 members from five pro-Union states (Maryland, Missouri, West Virginia, Kansas, and Oregon) while including three members from Louisiana.:24 The effort failed, a motion was made to add the missing delegations, and a Speaker was then elected.:25 Edward McPherson was then elected to replace Etheridge as Clerk for the 38th Congress.
Two years later, in December 1865 as the path of Reconstruction was being determined, McPherson omitted the names of members-elect from Tennessee, Virginia, and Louisiana from the roll for the 39th Congress, and allowed no interference or interruption during his call. After heated debate, in which a member-elect from Tennessee tried to gain floor recognition but was denied, a motion was made by Thaddeus Stevens to proceed to the election of Speaker, which was eventually agreed to.:26–27 This enabled the Radical Republicans to firmly control Congress, ultimately imposing stricter conditions on readmission of Southern states and enabling Congress to override many vetoes from President Andrew Johnson.
Rule II of the House Rules requires the Clerk to:
- prepare the roll of Members-elect.
- call the Members-elect to order at the commencement of each Congress; to call the roll of Members-elect, and, pending the election of the Speaker, to preserve order and decorum; and to decide all questions of order.
- prepare and distribute at the beginning of every session a list of reports required to be made to Congress.
- note all questions of order, and decisions thereon, and to print these as an appendix to the Journal of each session of the House.
- prepare and print the House Journal after each session of Congress, and to distribute the Journal to Members and to the executive and the legislature of each State.
- attest and affix the seal of the House to all writs, warrants, and subpoenas and formal documents issued by the House.
- certify the passage by the House of all bills and joint resolutions.
- receive messages from the President and the Senate when the House is not in session.
- prepare and deliver messages to the Senate and otherwise as requested by the House.
- retain, in the official library, a permanent set of the books and documents generated by the House.
- manage the office and supervise the staff of any vacant Member (the vacancy may have occurred by expulsion, resignation, or death) until a successor is elected.
In addition, the Clerk:
- acts as custodian of all noncurrent records of the House, pursuant to Rule VII.
- is responsible, under the supervision and direction of the U.S. House of Representatives Fine Arts Board, for the administration, maintenance, and display of the works of fine art and other similar property of the Congress for display or for other use in the House wing of the Capitol, the House Office Buildings, or any other location under the control of the House (P.L. 100-696). In addition, pursuant to the rules of the United States Preservation Commission, the Clerk may be asked to provide staff support and assistance to the commission.
On April 1, 1789, the House of Representatives convened with its first quorum. Its initial order of business was the election of the Speaker, Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg, a Representative from Pennsylvania. The next order of business was the election of the Clerk, John Beckley, a citizen of Virginia. Although the Clerk's title is derived from that of the Clerk of the British House of Commons, the duties are similar to those prescribed for the Secretary of the Continental Congress in March 1785.
In addition to the duties involved in organizing the House and presiding over its activities at the commencement of each Congress, the Clerk is charged with a number of legislative functions; some of these, such as the constitutional requirement of maintaining the House Journal, have existed from the time of the first Congress, whereas others have been added over the years because of changes in procedure and organization.
List of clerks
|John Holt Oswald||Pennsylvania||1799–1801|
|Caleb J. McNulty||Ohio||1843–1845|
|Benjamin Brown French||New Hampshire||1845–1847|
|Richard M. Young||Illinois||1850–1851|
|James C. Allen||Illinois||1857–1860|
|William Tyler Page||Maryland||1919–1931|
|Harry Newlin Megill||Maryland||1946–1947|
|Robin H. Carle||Idaho||1995–1998|
|Jeff Trandahl||South Dakota||1999–2005|
|Karen L. Haas||Maryland||2005–2007|
|Karen L. Haas||Maryland||2011–2019|
|Cheryl L. Johnson||Louisiana||2019–present|
Offices and services
In addition to the Clerk's Main Office, located in H154 of the U.S. Capitol, there are nine offices that fall under the Clerk's jurisdiction.
Capitol Service Groups
The Capitol Service Groups provide support services to the maintenance of the Republican and Democratic cloakrooms, the Lindy Claiborne Boggs Congressional Women's Reading Room, the Members and Family Committee Room, and the Capitol Prayer Room.
House Page Program
Pages were high school juniors who served as support staff for the U.S. House of Representatives, either for one of two school semester sessions or one of two summer sessions. The program was discontinued in 2011.
Legislative Computer Systems (LCS)
The Legislative Computer Systems office provides technical support for offices under the Clerk and maintains the electronic voting system on the House floor.
Legislative Resource Center (LRC)
The Legislative Resource Center (LRC), a division of the Office of the Clerk, supports House legislative functions and keeps the public informed about the House and its legislative activities. LRC ensures that House-related information is accessible to all.
LRC supplies House members with the documents under consideration on the House floor. LRC also gathers and verifies information on actions by House committees and the President of the United States regarding legislation. The data are stored in the Legislative Information Management System (LIMS), an in-house system that tracks all legislation from its introduction on the floor to its signing by the President.
Through two functions, the United States House of Representatives Library and the House Document Room, LRC serves as the repository and a disseminator of official House legislative documents and publications. The library's collection comprises more than 200,000 volumes, as well as legislative and legal databases. The House Document Room stores hard copies of legislative documents and publications from the current and two preceding congresses, and makes them available to the public upon request, free of charge.
In addition, LRC responds to inquiries from congressional staff and the public regarding legislative information about Congress.
LRC manages and serves as the customer service contact for lobbying disclosure filings, as well as public disclosure forms from all House officers, members, and staff. The center provides filers with forms and guidance on filing procedures, and responds to inquiries about disclosure from filers and others.
LRC gathers, organizes, and retains disclosure registrations and reports, and makes them accessible to the public, on-site and virtually.
House membership information
LRC compiles and publishes these official lists and informational publications about the House:
- Official lists of members
- The list of House standing committees and subcommittees
- The House telephone directory
- House office building directories
- Nominee and election statistics (presidential and congressional).
Support for congressional offices
LRC works with the Government Printing Office to support congressional offices with orders for official stationery and envelopes and other print services.
Office of Art and Archives & Office of the Historian
The Office of Art and Archives & Office of the Historian collect, preserve, and interpret the artifacts and records of the House. The offices are responsible for the House's historical documentation, the House Collection of Fine Art and Artifacts, and the official records of the House from 1789 to the present. The House Curator and chief of the office, Farar Elliott, curates the House Collection of several thousand objects. The House Archivist, Robin Reeder, processes the records of the House and oversees their eventual safe transfer to the National Archives. Together with the Historian of the House, the Curator and Archivist oversee the institution's website.
Office of House Employment Counsel (OHEC)
This office provides advice about employment practices and acts as legal representation for all employing authorities in the House.
Office of Legislative Operations
This office coordinates the services of the Bill and Enrolling Clerks, the Journal Clerks, the Tally Clerks, the Daily Digests, and the Floor Action Reporting.
The Office of Legislative Operations provides support pertaining to the Clerk's legislative duties. Among the duties of this office are receiving and processing official papers; compiling and publishing the daily minutes of House proceedings; operating the electronic voting system and overseeing the recording of votes; preparing messages to the Senate regarding passed legislation; and reading the bills, resolutions, amendments, motions, and Presidential messages that come before the House. The Office of Legislative Operations also prepares the summaries and schedules of House activities published in the Daily Digest section of the Congressional Record.
A bill clerk receives and processes official papers including introduced bills and resolutions, amendments and additional co-sponsors.
A journal clerk compiles the daily minutes of House proceedings and publishes these in the House Journal at the end of each session. The House Journal is the official record of the proceedings maintained in accordance with Article I, Section 5 of the U.S. Constitution.
A tally clerk operates the electronic voting system, oversees the recording of votes on the House floor, receives reports of committees, and prepares the Calendar of the United States House of Representatives and History of Legislation.
An enrolling Clerk prepares all messages to the Senate regarding passed legislation, the official engrossed copy of all House-passed measures, and the official enrollment of all House-originated measures that have cleared both bodies of Congress.
A reading clerk is responsible for the reading of all bills, resolutions, amendments, motions and presidential messages that come before the House; reports formally to the Senate all legislative actions taken by the House.
Office of Publication Services (OPS)
This office processes official print orders, such as those for letterhead and envelopes, for the House and produces official House publications, including the Official List of Members, the Capitol Directory Card, and the House Telephone Directory.
This office also develops and maintains the Clerk's official web site and the Kids in the House web site.
This office transcribes House proceedings verbatim for publication in the Congressional Record and provides stenographic support to committees for all hearings, meetings, and mark-up sessions.
- "Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives". Clerk.house.gov. Archived from the original on February 21, 2011. Retrieved May 7, 2018.
- "Pelosi Names Cheryl Johnson to Be House Clerk". Rollcall.com. December 28, 2018. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
- "United States Constitution". National Archives and Records Administration. Archived from the original on August 20, 2014. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
- Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States Volume 1. A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875. 1789. p. 6. Archived from the original on February 10, 2012.
- "History of the Office". Office of the Clerk. United States House of Representatives. Archived from the original on August 22, 2014. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
- Congressional Research Service, The First Day of a New Congress: A Guide to Proceedings on the House Floor, rev. Dec. 19, 2018, .
- Jeffrey Jenkins and Charles Stewart III, More than Just a Mouthpiece: The House Clerk as Party Operative, 1789-1870, Manuscript, 2005, available at .
- "Clerks of the House | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". History.house.gov. Retrieved January 30, 2020.
- "The Legislative Resource Center (LRC)". Archived from the original on February 26, 2015. Retrieved February 24, 2015.
- "Homepage". History.house.gov. Retrieved January 1, 2014.
- Hudiburg, Jane A. (May 31, 2018). The House Journal: Origin, Purpose, and Approval (PDF). Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service. Retrieved June 14, 2018.