WASHINGTON: The new Republican-led US House of Representatives was engulfed in crisis for a second day running Wednesday as a fresh round of voting failed to produce a winner in the race for speaker.

The lower chamber of Congress had limped to an adjournment Tuesday after conservative hardliners blocked establishment favorite Kevin McCarthy in a humiliating trio of votes.

The Californian Republican was defeated a fourth time Wednesday by the small but emboldened faction of around 20 right-wingers who have made history by pushing a speakership race past the first ballot for the first time in a century.

The debacle left the chamber unable to swear in members, fill vital committee roles, adopt rules for passing legislation, and with no plan for a path through the paralysis.

President Joe Biden called the Republicans' struggles "embarrassing," telling reporters the "rest of the world" was watching.

McCarthy's allies have been preparing for a drawn-out fight.

The 57-year-old -- who has raised millions of dollars to elect right-wing lawmakers -- dragged his party back to a narrow House majority in last year's midterms after four years in the wilderness.

He has long coveted the opportunity to replace Democrat Nancy Pelosi, something of an icon in US politics who held the gavel in the last Congress.

But McCarthy's speaker bid has opened a bitter rift within the House Republicans, with centrists referring to the hard-right faction leading the charge against him as the "Taliban 20."

'Close the deal'

Tuesday's vote results sparked frantic behind-the-scenes negotiations as McCarthy's allies tried to cut a deal with his conservative detractors that could also win the approval of moderates.

Deadlocked US House fails to pick speaker in first ballot

He told reporters in Congress he planned to stay in the race and had spoken to his biggest VIP backer, Donald Trump, who was still supporting his candidacy.

The former president duly called Wednesday for an end to the McCarthy blockade and implored House Republicans to "close the deal and take victory."

"Republicans, do not turn a great triumph into a giant and embarrassing defeat," he posted on his Truth Social platform, in comments that didn't move the needle at all on the House floor.

No House business can take place without a speaker, meaning the chamber has to continue voting until someone wins a majority.

But there was little sign that any deal could be struck to end the deadlock as members prepared to go back to the floor for a fifth round.

McCarthy, who has been bleeding support and has lost every round so far to Democratic minority leader Hakeem Jeffries, will be under pressure to quickly reverse the momentum if he stays in the race.

Should he decide it's too steep a hill to climb, the two parties are likely to start casting around for a "unity" candidate -- a consensus Republican who commits to being as bipartisan as possible.

'No ideology'

The Republicans will first look to their own ranks though, where two McCarthy loyalists -- incoming House majority leader Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan, a darling of the right -- look like the most viable alternatives.

Some of McCarthy's detractors have taken issue with specific political positions, but many others have just indicated broad distaste for his candidacy.

"Every single Republican in Congress knows that Kevin does not actually believe anything. He has no ideology," Republican opponent Matt Gaetz of Florida recently wrote of McCarthy.

The former delicatessen owner has already given away the store to his conservative opponents, agreeing to their demands for change in the way the House does business and lowering the threshold of support needed to oust a speaker.

But not one of them has shown signs of wavering.

Late on Tuesday, Gaetz sent a letter to the Architect of the Capitol complaining about McCarthy moving his belongings prematurely into the speaker's office.

"How long will he remain there before he is considered a squatter?" Gaetz demanded under an official letterhead.


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