Order Code RS22593
February 2, 2007
Rules and Practices Governing the
Selection of House Officers
Specialist in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
House procedures to elect an officer during a Congress differ from those followed
at the start of a Congress. A resolution to elect a replacement officer to fill a vacancy
during a Congress is privileged and debatable under the hour rule. By statute, the
Speaker has authority to appoint a temporary replacement officer, and in some cases,
temporary appointments have continued in effect for the remainder of a Congress. This
report discusses these and other parliamentary issues concerning the selection of officers
during the course of a Congress. The consultative procedure used in the selection of the
current House Chaplain is provided as an example. This report will be updated as
The House normally elects its officers by resolution. A resolution for this purpose
is privileged for consideration, as constituting a “a question of privileges of the House
resolution.”1 Questions of the privileges of the House resolution are raised though a
privileged resolution, offered pursuant to House Rule IX, that presents a question bearing
on the “rights, ... safety, dignity, and ... integrity” of the House.2
U.S. Congress, House, Constitution, Jefferson’s Manual, and Rules of the House of
Representatives of the United States, One Hundred Ninth Congress, [compiled by] John Sullivan,
Parliamentarian, 108th Cong., 2nd sess., H.Doc. 108-241 (Washington: GPO, 2005), Sec. 699.
Hereafter cited as House Rules Manual.
House Rule IX, clause 1, House Rules Manual, Sec. 698. Such a resolution would be offered
to elect an individual to a House office that was currently vacant.
On the first day of a new Congress, the House of Representatives follows well
established procedures, including the election of officers.3 When the House convenes at
the beginning of a new Congress, the chairman of the majority conference typically offers
an omnibus resolution for the election of specified individuals to the offices of Clerk,
Sergeant at Arms, Chief Administrative Officer, and Chaplain.4 The minority party
caucus chairman is then customarily recognized. The minority caucus chairman usually
(1) asks for a division of the question so that a separate (and noncontested) vote occurs
on the election of the chaplain; and (2) offers an amendment to the remainder of the
resolution, replacing the names of the majority candidates for the three other officer
positions with the names of minority party nominees.5 Little or no debate typically occurs
on this amendment or on the division of the resolution it would amend before the
amendment is defeated and the resolution adopted.
Selecting A Replacement Officer:
Procedures and Related Topics
A vacancy among House officers that occurs during a Congress is also filled by
means of a “privileges of the House resolution.” In some other respects, however, the
procedure for filling a vacancy under these conditions differs from that used to elect
officers at the start of a Congress. This section describes some of the parliamentary
precedents and practices governing House action to choose a new officer after the
commencement of a Congress.
Electing an Officer during a Congress. Since 1953, the Speaker has had the
authority in law (2 U.S.C. 72a-1) to make a temporary appointment to fill a House officer
vacancy, but the House, at any time, retains the right to formally elect a replacement
officer.6 The Speaker of the House may appoint an acting House officer, but the House
retains the right to elect a permanent replacement officer at any time. A privileges of the
House resolution, if offered by the Majority Leader or Minority Leader in proper form,
is in order for immediate consideration by the House. If such a resolution is offered by
any other Member, such Member must give the House advance notice of his or her intent
and the Speaker may postpone the consideration of the resolution for up to two days.7
The officers include the Clerk, Sergeant at Arms, Chief Administrative Officer, and Chaplain.
For more information, see CRS Report 98-401, House Administrative Officers and Officials, by
“Electing Officers of the House of Representatives,” vote on H. Res. 1, Congressional Record,
daily edition, vol. 153, Jan. 4, 2007, p. H6.
In the 19th century, contested elections for Chaplain occurred with some regularity. Multiple
candidates were nominated for the post in 13 Congresses during the 19th century. Eighteen
candidates were nominated in 1856 and in 1860. Six ballots were required to elect in 1840. The
last contested House election for chaplain occurred in 1889.
P.L. 197, 83rd Cong., 1st sess., 1953, 67 Stat. 387, 2 U.S.C.A. Sec. 75a-1(a); Deschler’s
Precedents of the U.S. House of Representatives, 94th Cong., 2nd sess., H.Doc. 94-661
(Washington: GPO, 1977), vol. 1, ch. 6, Sec. 21.
House Rule IX, clause 2(a)(1), House Rules Manual, Secs. 699, 701. The Speaker is not
required to postpone consideration of a privileges resolution when offered by someone other than
The Speaker then rules whether the resolution presents a question of the privileges of the
House. At the outset of consideration, any Member may demand a vote on whether the
House will consider the resolution (“raising the question of consideration”). The question
of consideration, a nondebatable proposition, is a means by which the House protects
itself from acting on business it does not currently wish to consider. If the House
determines by vote that it does not then wish to consider the item of business, the item in
question may be brought up again, even on the same day. Alternatively, a motion to lay
the resolution on the table would more decisively block it, as discussed in more detail
A privileges of the House resolution is debatable under the hour rule, with the time
equally divided and controlled between the proponent of the resolution and either the
majority leader, the minority leader, or a Member designed by the Speaker.8 Typically,
at the end of one hour’s debate, the proponent moves the previous question.9 If the House
orders the previous question, it proceeds without further debate to vote on the resolution.10
An amendment to the resolution (e.g., proposing another person to fill the office in
question) would be in order only if (1) the Member controlling time in favor of the
resolution yielded for that purpose; (2) if the motion for the previous question was not
offered or was defeated; or (3)the amendment was in the form of instructions in a motion
A motion to commit, with or without instructions, is in order. If offered by a
Member before debate on the resolution has begun, the motion itself would be debatable
for one hour, controlled by the Member who offered the motion. If offered after the
previous question is ordered, a committal motion would not be debatable. This motion
the majority leader or the minority leader. House Resolution 207, 105th Congress, a resolution
electing a new Chief Administrative Officer, was submitted by Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), the
chairman of the Republican Conference, and the Speaker immediately laid it before the House.
Congressional Record, vol. 143, July 31, 1997, pp. 17021-17023. A privileges of the House
resolution reported from committee is also privileged for immediate consideration.
House Rule IX, clause 2(a)(2), House Rules Manual, Sec. 699.
“When debate is divided by rule, … the previous question may not be removed until the other
side has used or yielded back its time.” House Rules Manual, sec. 997; Wm. Holmes Brown and
Charles Johnson, House Practice: A Guide to the Rules, Precedents, and Procedures of the
House, 108th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington: GPO, 2003), ch, 29, sec. 11, p. 692.
If the previous question is moved and ordered before any debate occurs, any Member may
demand 40 minutes of debate time, equally divided and controlled, as provided in House Rule
XIX, clause 1. If the previous question is moved and ordered after even minimal debate under
the hour rule, the demand for 40 minutes of debate time is not in order. House Rules Manual,
Sec. 994, 999.
House Rule XIX, clause 2, House Rules Manual, Sec. 1001-1002; the Parliamentarian’s notes
also detail the use of committal and referral motions on resolutions at various stages of floor
consideration. Note the terms “commit,” “recommit,” and “refer” are essentially synonymous.
See Congressional Quarterly Inc., American Congressional Dictionary (Washington: CQ Press,
2001), p. 45. Technically, a privileges of the House resolution offered directly on the floor could
not be “recommitted” because it had never initially been referred to committee.
would also be subject to a nondebatable motion to lay on the table. Agreement to a
motion to table a matter is equivalent to a final negative disposition of the matter.
Other motions could also be offered, either at the outset or the conclusion of debate
on the resolution. For example, a motion to table the resolution itself (and, thus, defeat
it indirectly) would be in order, if offered before the proponent was recognized for debate,
or if the Member controlling time on the resolution yielded for the purpose.
Resignation Effective When Accepted. Under House precedents, the
resignation of an elected officer is subject to acceptance by the House.12 The Speaker lays
letters of resignation from officers before the House, and they are usually accepted by
unanimous consent.13 If objection is heard, a motion to accept would be in order and
debated under the hour rule.
In November 1999, the House agreed to H.Res. 373, designating Rev. James Ford
as Chaplain Emeritus upon his retirement.14 Earlier in the year, he had informed the
House leadership of his intentions to retire in the coming months.15 Chaplain Ford did not
submit a letter of resignation, however, until March 23, 2000, and continued to offer
opening prayers on a regular basis during the intervening four-month period.16 No action
to choose or designate a successor was necessary until a vacancy in the post formally
Speaker Appointments to Fill Officer Vacancy. The Speaker has made
temporary appointments to fill a House officer vacancy, which, in some cases, have
extended through the remainder of the Congress then underway. In one instance (1972),
the Sergeant at Arms resigned (in order to qualify for certain federal government pension
benefits) and was subsequently appointed acting Sergeant at Arms. In March 1966, the
Speaker appointed Rev. Edward Gardiner Latch acting Chaplain after the death of the
incumbent; Rev. Latch served as acting Chaplain for the remainder of the Congress, and
was elected Chaplain at the beginning of the next Congress in January 1967. Most
recently, the current House Chaplain, Rev. Daniel P. Coughlin, served as acting Chaplain
from March 23, 2000, until the end of the 106th Congress.
Brown and Johnson, chap. 35, pp. 624-651.
See, for example, the resignation of Jack Russ as Sergeant at Arms and the appointment of
Werner Brandt as acting Sergeant at Arms, “Resignation as Sergeant at Arms and Appointment
of Sergeant at Arms,” Congressional Record, vol. 138, Mar. 12, 1992, p. 5519. In 2000, the
resignation of Chaplain James Ford was accepted by unanimous consent after Rep. Gerald
Kleczka (D-WI), under a reservation of objection (subsequently withdrawn), received assurances
that time on the House floor would be made available for additional statements about the chaplain
selection process. Congressional Record, vol. 146, Mar. 23, 2000, p. 3480.
Congressional Record, vol. 145, Nov. 10, 1999, pp. 29493-29496.
“Rev. Ford to Leave House Chaplaincy,” Roll Call, May 27, 1999, p. 3.
Congressional Record, vol. 146, Mar. 23, 2000, p. 3480.
Julie R. Hirschfeld, “House GOP May See Chaplain Ford as Better Idea,” CQ Daily Monitor,
Feb. 11, 2000, p. 7.
The Speaker’s action to appoint Father Coughlin shows the temporary character of
The SPEAKER. Pursuant to 2 U.S.C. 75a-1, the Chair appoints Father Daniel
Coughlin of Illinois to act as and to exercise temporarily the duties of Chaplain of the
House of Representatives. Will Father Coughlin please come forward and take the
oath of office?18
Individuals appointed as acting officers serve until the House formally elects an
officer or until the end of the Congress. There was some thought during the 106th
Congress that a privileged resolution for the appointment of a Chaplain might be offered
on the House floor. No such action occurred, however, and Father Coughlin served as
acting Chaplain for the remainder of the 106th Congress and has been elected the Chaplain
at the beginning of all subsequent Congresses to date.
The Retirement of the House Chaplain: A Case Study19
On March 23, 2000, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert announced the retirement of Chaplain
James David Ford and the appointment of Rev. Daniel P. Coughlin, a Roman Catholic
priest from Chicago, as acting Chaplain of the House.20 Earlier in the day, the House had
accepted by unanimous consent the resignation of Rev. Ford as chaplain.21 Father
Coughlin, a priest for 40 years, had served in a variety of clerical posts in the Chicago
archdiocese, and at the time of his selection was vicar (personal representative of the
archbishop) to the priests of the archdiocese.
Reverend Ford, House Chaplain since 1979, informed the House leadership in early
1999 his intention to retire. In May 1999, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert announced the
formation of an informal 18-member bipartisan committee to review applications for the
post of Chaplain and to recommend three names to the House leadership.22 The Speaker
was expanding upon the practice initiated by Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr., the last time
the House was faced with choosing a Chaplain. At that time, Speaker O’Neill directed
a three-member committee consisting of House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-TX),
House Minority Leader John J. Rhodes (R-AZ), and Representative George Mahon (DTX), the Dean of the House, to recommend a successor to Rev. Edward Gardiner Latch,
the incumbent Chaplain. The committee recommended Rev. Ford for the post, and he
“Appointment as Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives,” Congressional
Record, vol. 146, Mar. 23, 2000, p. 3480.
For a brief history of the evolution of the congressional chaplaincy, see CRS Report RS20427,
House and Senate Chaplains, by Mildred L. Amer.
Congressional Record, vol. 146, Mar. 23, 2000, p. 3481.
Ibid., p. 3480.
“Rev. Ford to Leave House Chaplaincy,” Roll Call, May 27, 1999, p. 3; and “Statement of
Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and Democratic Leader Gephardt on the Retirement of Dr. James Ford
as House Chaplain,” in “Final Report: Chaplain Search Committee,” unpublished report
circulated to all House Members, January 2000, attachment 2.
was elected by the House when it convened at the beginning of the 96th Congress.23
Earlier chaplaincy vacancies had been filled upon the sole recommendation of the Speaker
or of the majority party conference, subject to election by the full House.
Late in 1999, the informal committee, named by Speaker Hastert, forwarded the
names of Rev. Robert Dvorak, Rev. Timothy O’Brien, S.J., and Rev. Charles Wright to
the leadership group (the Speaker and Majority and Minority Leaders). After reviewing
more than three dozen applications for the post, Rev. Wright, a Presbyterian minister, was
reported as the choice of the leadership group, with Speaker Hastert and Majority Leader
Richard K. Armey supporting him and Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt supporting
Father O’Brien, a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest.
A subsequent controversy over the selection process delayed Chaplain Ford’s
retirement. Ultimately, Rev. Wright requested Speaker Hastert to withdraw his name
from consideration. Press reports indicated that Speaker Hastert consulted with Cardinal
Francis George, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Chicago, about the Chaplain selection
controversy. At the Speaker’s request, Cardinal George reportedly submitted the names
of priests who would be suitable candidates for the chaplaincy, and Speaker Hastert was
said to have met with Father Coughlin for the first time on Monday, March 20, 2000.24
Election of Chaplain: Proposed Rule Change. After the appointment of
Father Coughlin on March 23, 2000, Representatives Cal Dooley (D-CA) and Earl
Pomeroy (D-ND) introduced H.Res. 447, a proposal to require bipartisan concurrence
among the House leadership to nominate a chaplain in the future.25 The resolution would
require the election at the beginning of a Congress of a Chaplain who “shall have been
nominated by the Speaker, the Majority Leader, and the Minority Leader, acting jointly.”
H.Res. 447 was referred to the House Committee on Rules, but no further action was
taken on it. No similar resolutions have since been introduced.
Resolution for Disclosure of Documents. Press reports suggested earlier that
one or more Members might seek the disclosure of files and documents prepared by the
informal committee established by the Speaker during its review of applicants for the
Chaplain’s post in 2000.26 Such a request for disclosure would have presumably been
made through a privileges of the House resolution. No such resolution was presented.
Jack Eisen, “Chaplain of House Retires after 12 Years of Service,” Washington Post, Oct. 15,
1978, p. A14; Mimi Noel, “Rev. James D. Ford Settles in as Chaplain,” Roll Call, Feb. 2, 1979,
pp. 1, 3.
Matthew Vita, “House Gets 1st Catholic Chaplain,” Washington Post, Mar. 24, 2000, pp. A1,
Rep. Pomeroy was the co-chair of the Speaker’s informal chaplain review committee.
Amy Keller and Jim VandeHei, “GOP Sees Peril in Chaplain Spat,” Roll Call, Jan. 10, 2000,
pp. 1, 19; Anne E. Kornblut, “Choice of House Chaplain Greeted with Cries of Bias,” Boston
Globe, Dec. 3, 1999, p. A3.