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- The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives does not have to be a member of Congress. But it has never happened that a speaker was elected from outside the House.
- The House Republican Conference’s rules say that leaders “shall step aside if indicted for a felony for which a sentence of two or more years imprisonment may be imposed.” But experts said that rule can be easily changed by an internal vote that doesn’t require input from Democrats.
- The speaker of the House is not only a leader of the majority party, but also an officer of the House of Representatives. The latter body’s rules are unclear about whether an indictment would prevent someone from serving as speaker.
Now that Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has been deposed as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, could former President Donald Trump take his place? That’s what some House Republicans have said they’d like to see.
Soon after McCarthy’s Oct. 3 ouster — made possible by eight votes from members of his own Republican conference — Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, said that once the chamber is back in session, he intends to "nominate Donald J. Trump for Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives."
Another Republican House member, Greg Steube of Florida, posted on X, "@realDonaldTrump for Speaker." And Fox News host Sean Hannity told viewers Oct. 3 that "some House Republicans" had "been in contact with and have started an effort to draft" Trump as speaker.
The following day, Trump himself didn’t rule out the prospect. "A lot of people have been calling me about speaker," he said outside the New York City courthouse, where he faces a civil trial involving his business holdings. "All I can say is we will do whatever is best for the country and other Republican Party and people."
It’s technically possible that Trump could assume the role, experts say. But as a practical matter, it’s highly unlikely.
"A speaker of the House need not be a member of Congress," John Fortier, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told PolitiFact in 2021. "That said, we have never elected a speaker from outside the House. But it is constitutionally permissible."
Long before the possibility of a Trump speakership, the notion of a non-House member speaker has been catnip for journalists and other politicos, who have engaged in parlor games about which major figure might be able to whip the institution into shape. But this scenario has never come close to fruition and has become something of a running joke among Washington, D.C., insiders.
"There will never, ever be a speaker who is not a member of the House," Punchbowl News’ John Bresnahan posted on X. "It’s never gonna happen. Move on."
One potential hiccup emerged, but it doesn’t seem to be a significant barrier.
Replying to a post on X citing Hannity’s comment about the push for a Trump speakership, Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., shared a screenshot, saying, "I would direct your attention to rule 26(a) of the House Republican Conference rules for the 118th Congress."
That provision says, "A member of the Republican Leadership shall step aside if indicted for a felony for which a sentence of two or more years imprisonment may be imposed."
Trump is facing four separate indictments, two in federal cases and two in state cases. In just one of those cases, involving documents he’s charged with keeping after his presidency, one Espionage Act charge alone carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Other charges, such as conspiracy to obstruct justice, could bring a sentence of up to 20 years.
However, experts said the rule cited by Casten likely would not be a significant barrier to Trump taking the speaker role.
The House Republican Conference’s rules can be changed fairly easily by an internal vote that doesn’t require any input from House Democrats.
In addition, the House Republican Conference rules could be trumped, to coin a phrase, by the fact that the speaker is not only a leader of the majority party, but also an officer of the House of Representatives.
While the House’s majority party is typically able to install its speaker of choice because it holds the majority of the chamber’s votes, the speaker of the House is formally elected by the full House, with a Republican nominee facing off against a Democratic nominee. Even though speakers direct their party’s strategy and tactics in the chamber, they are also officers of the House as a whole. Given this role, being an officer of the House might take precedence.
So, what do the House rules say? One X user entered the fray by posting screenshots of the House rules for the 118th Congress, which say a party leader who’s indicted "should" resign, rather than the more definitive "shall."
Still, the unusual status of the speaker — part party leader, part institution leader — isn’t explicitly addressed in the House rules.
There are lots of reasons why a Trump speakership is far-fetched in a real-world sense.
First, Trump already has a lot on his plate. Not only is he defending himself in four criminal trials and the civil trial, but he’s also running for president. (Not to mention managing the rest of his business empire.)
The speakership is a job filled with constant tasks both big and small. "It requires that you actually get to the office at a reasonable hour and deal with the kinds of factional disputes that he would rather fuel, rather than settle," said C. Lawrence Evans, a College of William & Mary professor of government.
It’s also unclear whether Trump could win a speakership election, despite the loyalty he inspires among Republican leaders and voters.
If Trump gets as far as a full House vote as the Republican nominee, it would take only a handful of Republican defectors to deliver the election to the expected Democratic nominee, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York. This is not an idle threat, given that there are 18 House Republicans serving in districts won by Joe Biden in 2020 who would think long and hard before voting for Trump for speaker.
PolitiFact Staff Writer Amy Sherman contributed to this report.
House Republican Conference, Conference Rules of the 118th Congress, accessed Oct. 4, 2023
House of Representatives, House Rules for the 118th Congress, accessed Oct. 4, 2023
Greg Steube, post on X, Oct. 3, 2023
John Bresnahan, post on X, Oct. 3, 2023
NBC News, "Trump is not ruling out being the new House speaker," Oct. 4, 2023
Fox News, "GOP lawmakers float Trump for House speaker after McCarthy's ousting," Oct. 3, 2023
The Guardian, "Republican congressman to nominate Trump for House speaker," Oct. 4, 2023
U.S. News & World Report, "Democrats’ Early Edge Toward Taking Back the House in ‘24," Aug. 10, 2023
Associated Press, "How much prison time could Trump face? Past cases brought steep punishment for document hoarders," June 15, 2023
PolitiFact, "Trump fans pose a hypothetical: Could Donald Trump become speaker, then president in 2023?" March 3, 2021
Email interview with John Fortier, research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, March 3, 2021
Email interview with Donald Wolfensberger, congressional scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former staff director of the House Rules Committee, Oct. 4, 2023
Email interview with C. Lawrence Evans, professor of government at the College of William & Mary, Oct. 4, 2023