Republican infighting erupted on the floor of the House of Representatives on Tuesday as a small group of Trump-allied lawmakers blocked the party’s presidential nominee Kevin McCarthy.
Mr McCarthy became the first majority party leader in over a century to fail to win support in the first round, garnering the support of just 203 of his colleagues – behind new Democrat leader Hakeem Jeffries, who garnered 212 votes . Ten Republicans supported hardliner Andy Biggs, while nine others voted for none of the three.
A second ballot saw Mr Jeffries leading again on 212, Mr McCarthy on 203 and Conservative Jim Jordan on 19.
More ballots were expected until one candidate could secure a majority, which requires 218 votes – a process that could take days unless a deal is reached.
On paper, Republicans have a slim majority in the House after November’s midterm elections left them with 222 seats, ahead of Democrats on 213 – but their expected takeover of the chamber on Tuesday was marred by flexing members of the far-right Liberty Caucus.
While California Republican Mr. McCarthy enjoyed the support of most of his conservative peers, enough rebels against him – including Andy Biggs, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar and Lauren Boebert – to halt the proceedings.
The rebels, oblivious to days of negotiations, accuse Mr McCarthy of being insufficiently loyal to Mr Trump and failing to take a tough stance on “culture war” issues.
Even if he ultimately succeeds, critics have warned that the nature of the concessions being offered by Mr McCarthy – including promises of plum board jobs for his critics and the power to impeach him at any time – could see infighting fester for weeks.
Republican control of the House will likely prove a major stumbling block for nearly all of President Joe Biden’s remaining legislative ambitions, even if his party continues to control the Senate after better-than-expected midterm election results.
While Mr Biden has pledged to work across the aisle with Republicans, his opponents – whether under Mr McCarthy or an alternative candidate – are likely to take an obstructionist stance and kill all but the most critical pieces of legislation.
Republicans, eager for revenge after Donald Trump’s two impeachments, have also threatened several investigations related to the president, including his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings.