The new US Congress was thrown into chaos on its very first day Tuesday as rebel right-wing Republicans moved to block party favorite Kevin McCarthy from becoming speaker of the House of Representatives.
The California congressman needed a simple majority to be elected as Washington’s top legislator, who presides over House business and is second in line to the presidency.
But divided Republicans failed to elect a speaker in the first round of voting, for the first time in 100 years, after a nailbiting ballot that earned blanket coverage across US television networks.
McCarthy needed 218 votes in the lower chamber, which flipped to a narrow 222-212 Republican majority after last year’s midterm elections.
But the 57-year-old fell short — having failed to bring party rebels, who include several high-profile Donald Trump allies, into line.
His performance was so weak that he lost out by 203 votes to 212 to the Democratic minority leader Hakeem Jeffries in round one — although there was very little doubt a Republican would ultimately claim the speaker’s gavel.
The process now goes to a second round, expected later on Tuesday, where hardliners can put up their own candidate.
McCarthy has long coveted the role of speaker, having withdrawn from the race in 2015 amid a number of blunders and a right-wing revolt.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