On a day of high political drama, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy repeatedly failed in his bid to be elected Speaker of the US House of Representatives.
The House adjourned without a speaker on Tuesday night – the first time since 1923 they had failed to choose a leader after a first round vote.
The start of a new Congress was supposed to be a victory lap for the Republican Party as it took control of the lower chamber following November’s elections. Instead, Mr McCarthy faced a rebellion from within his own ranks and made history for all the wrong reasons.
The California congressman has lost three consecutive votes for Speaker so far, and it’s unclear what his path to victory could be when the House returns on Wednesday to try all over again. They will keep voting until someone wins a majority.
And even if Mr McCarthy finds a way, analysts warn, the turmoil on the floor of the House foreshadows a tumultuous two years of moderate and right-wing Republicans at war with each other.
If the Republican party is unable to effectively run the lower chamber of Congress, this could hamper the ability of the House to carry out some of its core functions like passing spending bills or raising the debt ceiling.
Republicans narrowly won control of the House in November, so Mr McCarthy only had a few votes to spare in his bid to become Speaker. That allowed a group of hardline conservatives to band together to oppose his nomination.
The rift was a long time coming, according to Republican observers.
“Kevin McCarthy has not made friends with certain segments of the caucus for a while, he’s made a lot of enemies,” said one Republican lobbyist, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about Tuesday’s vote. “There’s people who don’t like him for political reasons, for personal reasons.”
Mr McCarthy entered into negotiations with his detractors – who see him as too mainstream and power hungry – offering concessions to try to win their vote. At one point, he reportedly agreed to change the House rules to make it easier to oust a sitting Speaker, handing his opponents an enormous check on his power.
“The fact he was negotiating with the Republicans at all made him look very, very weak to the point of being desperate,” the Republican lobbyist said.