Republican Kevin McCarthy loses three rounds of dramatic vote for speaker of US House of Representatives as hardliners from his own party rebel against him, leaving new Republican majority in turmoil.
Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has failed in three rounds of voting to become House speaker, a historic defeat with no clear way out as House Republicans dug in for a long, messy start for the new Congress.
The US House of Representatives was forced to adjourn on Tuesday after failing to elect McCarthy as speaker.
The California congressman needed a simple 218 majority to be picked as the new head of the Republican-led lower chamber, but he was stymied three times in a row by as many as 20 no-votes from his own side.
McCarthy got just 203 in first two rounds and 202 in third round — less even than Democrat Hakeem Jeffries in the GOP-controlled chamber, who bagged 212 votes in the third round.
McCarthy had pledged a "battle on the floor" for as long as it took to overcome right-flank fellow Republicans who were refusing to give him their votes, but it was not at all clear how the embattled GOP leader could rebound after becoming the first House speaker nominee in 100 years to fail to win the gavel from his fellow party members on the initial vote.
Before the second vote, rival-turned-McCarthy ally, conservative Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio, who got six votes in the first round, rose to urge his colleagues, even those who backed him as an alternative, to drop their opposition.
"We have to rally around him, come together," Jordan said of McCarthy.
But Rep Matt Gaetz of Florida followed with a vigorous re-endorsement of Jordan, underscoring the chaos within the party.
"I rise to nominate the most talented, hardest working member of the Republican conference, who just gave a speech with more vision than we have ever heard from the alternative," Gaetz said.
Jordan got 19 votes in the second round and 20 in third.
This is the first time in a century that US House fails to elect speaker on first vote. Jon Brain reports pic.twitter.com/YCuRj98f1U— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) January 3, 2023
Tripped up by far-right rebels
McCarthy has long coveted the role of speaker, having withdrawn from the race in 2015 amid a number of blunders and a right-wing revolt.
This time he was once again tripped up by far-right rebels, despite bowing to their calls to push aggressive investigations of Democrats, including President Joe Biden, after taking over the House.
Two of his most outspoken detractors, flamethrower Marjorie Taylor Greene and Gaetz, had duelling columns opposing his bid in the conservative Daily Caller before Christmas.
"Every single Republican in Congress knows that Kevin does not actually believe anything. He has no ideology," Gaetz wrote.
Greene, who is believed to have been offered considerable influence in return for her backing, retorted that McCarthy's opponents were lying "when they claim a consensus House Speaker candidate will emerge."
The last time it took more than one round of voting to pick a speaker at the start of a new Congress was a century ago, in 1923.
No credible Republican alternative for round two had yet been floated publicly, although the most obvious would be House Whip Steve Scalise, a loyal McCarthy deputy who has nevertheless been clear that he has ambitions of his own.
The party's right fringe is likely to see Scalise as more of the same, however, and plans to put up its own champion.
One roadblock to his anointment was the perception by some on his party's far-right that he is insufficiently loyal to Trump, the Republican former president and 2024 election candidate.
The California Republican has tried to ingratiate himself with the "Never Kevin" crowd.
McCarthy, who defied a subpoena from the House panel probing the 2021 assault on the Capitol, promised investigations of Biden's family and administration, as well as of the FBI and CIA.
But the more he is seen as giving away the store to critics on the right, the more likely he is to alienate moderates, sparking an open war between Senate and House Republicans, where there is already little love lost.
Strategists expect fraught cloak-and-dagger talks in the event of a McCarthy defeat that could see the emergence of a consensus Republican who can lock in a majority of votes with some Democratic support.
There have been behind-the-scenes speculation about how long McCarthy might stay in Congress if he were to lose out again.
Allies point out that he would not be short of private-sector job offers.
But some Congress watchers believe the career politician has a place in his blood and would want to remain as a backbencher.