For the last quarter of a decade, Tom Wickham has helped Congress stick to its rules and helped make new ones, in a career working in the office of the Parliamentarian of the House.
Since 2012, he has served in the top post of that office. But, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Wickham’s resignation from the seat, effective Sept. 30.
“I kind of term limited myself at 25 years,” he said this week. “My predecessor worked 25 years in the office. At that point, I think it’s a good time to hand off to new blood.”
Wickham is a graduate of Western Dubuque High School and the University of Iowa. And rather than following a career as a litigator, he joined the parliamentarian’s office just a year after law school, in 1995.
“It’s a unique position, where you’re dealing with the rules of the House and the members of Congress,” he said. “There’s no classes in law school to teach you how to be a parliamentarian.”
Wickham was hired when former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich had the gavel. Since, he has worked under four speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives, including one twice — Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., John Boehner, R-Ohio, Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and now, Pelosi, again.
He said that despite the prominent, powerful personalities of some of those speakers, his job did not change much between each.
“Tom Wickham is a master of House rules and procedure, whose incisive legal acumen and absolute professionalism have strengthened the People’s House and benefitted the American people whom we serve,” Pelosi wrote in the statement announcing Wickham’s resignation.
The Parliamentarian of the House may seem a low profile position for the layperson. Wickham has worked behind the scenes, usually opting not to weigh in on Congressional goings on — even when asked by his hometown newspaper.
But, during that tenure, Wickham has given guidance to House leaders through some truly historic moments — including two impeachments.
“Those experiences tend to steel you or get you ready for whatever might be coming around the bend,” he said. “So, it’s better, because you’re acting like a nonpartisan umpire, to have someone experienced.”
Wickham worked as an assistant parliamentarian in the office beginning in 2005, then became a deputy parliamentarian in 2005, before getting his name on the door in 2012.
He said that usually, the advice from his office to the presiding officer of the House was highly technical.
“For an impeachment, for instance, it’s not on the substance of the allegations,” he said. “It’s how many committees are involved, what type of report is being formulated, how many articles — things like that, which are really separate from the alleged offense committed. It allows us to be technicians on those.”
Wickham said that during his time in Washington, D.C., the job has had to adapt and evolve to both rapidly changing technology and growing political divisiveness. And, recently, the COVID-19 pandemic caused drastic changes, in which he had to be right in the middle.
Now, he said he plans to take his time and cast a wide net to see what he does next. Pelosi appointed current Deputy Parliamentarian Jason Smith to take the post.