Meet the House clerk wielding the gavel until speaker chosen

Meet the House clerk wielding the gavel until speaker chosen

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Standing up to nominate Rep. Byron Donalds for Speaker of the House of Representatives, Republican Chip Roy addressed the woman presiding over the chamber as “Madam Speaker.”

The third-term congressman quickly corrected himself. “Madam Clerk,” he admitted with a smile.

The flub, which came on the second day of voting, illustrated the growing stature of House Clerk Cheryl Johnson, a central figure in the drama that has been a days-long effort to select a speaker. Round after round she called for the start of each vote and in the end she announced that once again the president was not elected.

A look at Johnson and her increasingly prominent role:


According to her official biography, Johnson is the 36th person to serve as the clerk and was first sworn in by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2019. She is the first black woman to preside over a chamber of the House of Representatives.

A native of New Orleans, Johnson has worked for the House of Representatives for nearly two decades, serving as chief investigative counsel and spokesman for the Committee on Education and the Workforce. She was also counsel to the committee with oversight over the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution, where she worked for 10 years liaising with congressional committees with jurisdiction over its funding.

A journalism and mass communication graduate of the University of Iowa, Johnson received her law degree from Howard University and graduated from the senior management program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

On Friday, at the nomination of House Speaker Hakeem Jeffries — whom Democrats have unanimously supported through every round of voting — outgoing House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn turned to Johnson, thanking him. for her service during a controversial week.

“Madam Clerk, I want to begin by thanking you for your contribution to maintaining the dignity and honor of this august body,” said Clyburn, who as the House’s No. 3 Democrat had been the chamber’s highest-ranking black member. “The eyes of the country are on us today. Let’s consider what they will remember.”


Until a speaker is elected and the elected members are formally sworn in, the clerk presides over the chamber, charged with calling each day’s session to order, calling the roll, and deciding on procedural questions that may arise.

It is also up to the clerk to maintain order in the House of Representatives chamber, which has sometimes included using her wand to muffle a dull din during debate.

Once a speaker is in place, the clerk’s role becomes more procedural, keeping records of floor activity, preparing, printing, and distributing the daily journal, and certifying approval of bills and resolutions.

The clerk also acts as an intermediary for the House and Senate, as well as the White House, when the chamber is not in session, receiving and delivering messages. He or she also supervises the staff of any member who dies, resigns or is expelled, until a replacement is selected.

In addition to duties within the chamber, there are a number of other offices whose jurisdiction falls under the clerk, including those of pursuing legislation, transcribing floor proceedings, and processing and maintaining House records until they are transferred to the National Archives.

John Beckley of Virginia was elected as the first Clerk of the House in April 1789. The Clerk also served as Librarian of Congress until 1815, when it became a separate position.


The Clerk is a professional employee of Congress, one of the officers of the House of Representatives who is elected every two years when the House convenes for a new session.

Each caucus nominates candidates for those positions, but those elections cannot occur until a new chair is elected. So, at least for now, Johnson remains in office.


Kinnard can be reached at

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