House Parliamentarian set to retire

February 28, 2012

Need clarification on a point of order? Want to know how to respond to a parliamentary inquiry? In the House, there’s a Parliamentarian for that.

On Tuesday House Parliamentarian John Sullivan announced he plans to retire next month. His deputy, Tom Wickham, will succeed him.

Hardcore C-SPAN junkies should recognize Sullivan and Wickham as the gentlemen usually seated or standing just to the right of the House Speaker or whoever is serving as the presiding officer during floor debates and votes.

Since the 1850s, the House Parliamentarian has addressed questions of historic precedent and legislative procedure. Just 19 people have held the job since the House established the position in 1857.

Sullivan’s retirement sparked rare bipartisan agreement Tuesday.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said his tenure “was marked by professionalism and fairness” while House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he’d been “a careful steward of the rules of the House and a strong defender of their proper exercise.” Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) credited Sullivan for serving “with professionalism and distinction.”

Sullivan spent 17 years in the Office of the Parliamentarian before taking the top job and previously served as counsel to the House Armed Services Committee and as an Air Force Judge Advocate.

Through the years, the Parliamentarian has been known by several titles, including “Messenger to the Speaker,” “Clerk to the Speaker,” and “Clerk at the Speaker’s Table.” Of the 19 people who have held the job, four of them also served as members of the House. (Learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the job by clicking here.)

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

For more political news, visit PostPolitics.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.
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