Chaos has engulfed the US Congress after right-wing renegade Republicans prevented favorite Kevin McCarthy from becoming Speaker in a series of humiliating votes on Tuesday.
Voting for the new leader of the US House of Representatives is expected to resume on Wednesday.
A California congressman needed a simple majority to be elected Washington’s top legislator, who runs the House of Representatives and is second in line to the presidency after the vice president.
But for the first time in a century, Republicans failed to elect a speaker in the first three rounds of voting, given the overwhelming coverage on American television networks.
Instead of celebrating its new control of the House of Representatives, the party is facing a protracted race to elect the speaker, which could further deepen internal divisions and put McCarthy’s political career at stake.
The 57-year-old MP needed 218 votes in the lower house, which after last year’s midterm elections went to a narrow Republican majority of 222-212 votes.
But he failed to bring in party rioters, including several senior allies of former President Donald Trump, and was shocked by his side’s 19 no votes in each of the first two rounds, rising to 20 in the first round. third.
His performance was so weak that he lost to Democratic Minority Leader Hakim Jeffreys in each of the first three ballots, although there is little doubt that the Republican will eventually get the speaker’s gavel.
McCarthy has long coveted the role, withdrawing from the race in 2015 due to a string of mistakes and an uprising from the right.
This time, he was once again baffled by far-right rebels, despite succumbing to their calls for aggressive investigations into Democrats, including President Joe Biden, after the House takeover.
Lawmakers agreed to adjourn until Wednesday amid a steadily growing momentum among Republicans to regroup overnight, lick their wounds and formulate a strategy to turn a disastrous defeat into an unlikely face-saving victory.
“The reality is that Rep. Kevin McCarthy has no votes,” Florida’s Byron Donalds said in a closing statement, urging other members of the party conference to “stand back and huddle” in search of a breakthrough.
The last time it took more than one ballot to select a speaker at the start of a new Congress was a hundred years ago, in 1923. The process of selecting a single speaker in 1855 took 133 ballots over two months.
McCarthy, who was trying to avoid small factions fleeing the room to conduct their own negotiations, initially planned to leave members in the room and vote until he could force his rivals into submission.
Some pro-McCarthy lawmakers and collaborators started the day by saying he must leave if he can’t get the gavel in the second round, according to US media reports.
The House of Representatives is expected to hold additional votes from noon (17:00 GMT) on Wednesday until someone wins a majority – and it is possible that a new candidate who did not participate in the process may come to the fore.
One of the obstacles to McCarthy’s anointing was the view of some on the far right in his party that he was not loyal enough to Trump, who is running again for the White House after being defeated by Biden in 2020.
By the time the meeting adjourned, no credible Republican alternative to McCarthy had emerged, although one obvious name would be new House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, a McCarthyist who nonetheless made it clear he had ambitions of his own.
However, the “Never Kevin” crowd will likely see the same in Scalise.
McCarthy, who challenged the House committee’s subpoena to investigate the 2021 attack on the Capitol, has already promised hardliners to investigate the Biden family and administration, as well as the FBI and CIA.
But the more he is seen as yielding to the right, the more likely he is to alienate moderates by fomenting open war between Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives, where there is already little love.
For Republicans in Congress, not everything was hopeless.
The Senate also convened for a new term on Tuesday, with Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell breaking the Senate leader’s record for the longest time.
“There is so much unnecessary turmoil in the Republican Party,” Trump wrote in Truth Social after the House closed Tuesday night, emphasizing that it was McConnell who blamed the controversy and did not mention McCarthy or the chaos in the House of Representatives.