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‘Can we get our act together?’ Embarrassing stalemate as US congress fails to elect Speaker

An “embarrassing” political stalement has reached a new level in the US Congress after the candidate seeking to replace departing Speaker Nancy Pelosi lost a humiliating fifth ballot.

Republican Kevin McCarthy suffered another two defeats on Wednesday (local time) after the previous day losing three successive rounds of voting.

Mr McCarthy failed to attract the required votes from within his own political party as the Republicans are at a stand-off over his candidature.

However he has vowed to remain in the race to be the powerful US House of Representatives speaker — a role second in line to the Oval Office after the vice president.

The situation is unprecedented in the US and means the new Congress is unable to get started with business, including the swearing-in of members-elect.

US President Joe Biden said the Republican infighting which was causing the stalemate in Congress was “embarrassing” but “not my problem”.

“I do think it’s a little embarrassing it’s taking so long in the way [House Republicans are] dealing with one another,” he told media.

“And the rest of the world’s looking, they’re looking at, you know, can we get our act together.”

The stand-off within the Republican party involves about 20 hardliners and the other 202 members of the Republican caucus.

Mr McCarthy has failed in five ballots to achieve the 218 votes needed to become speaker.

It is a disconcerting start for the new Republican majority in Congress and highlights the challenges the party could face over the next two years, heading into the 2024 presidential election.

Their slim 222-212 majority gives greater clout to a small group of hardliners, who want rule changes that would give them greater control over the speaker and more influence over the party’s approach to spending and the debt.

Late on Tuesday (local time), Mr McCarthy told reporters that former President Donald Trump had called him and reiterated his support.

Mr Trump has backed Mr McCarthy in the race and remains a powerful figure in the Republican Party.

Mr McCarthy, 57, from California, knew he faced an uphill climb heading into Tuesday’s vote and had vowed to continue to force votes.

“I think that Kevin knows that this is his last shot,” said Representative Kenneth Buck, on Tuesday (local time).

He noted that McCarthy previously tried in 2015 to become speaker and failed in the face of conservative opposition, adding, “He’s not gonna have this chance again”.

A protracted speaker election could undermine House Republicans’ hopes of moving forward quickly on investigations of Mr Biden and his administration, and legislative priorities that include the economy, US energy independence and border security.

A stand-off would leave the House largely paralysed and could force lawmakers to consider another Republican candidate.

The last time the House failed to elect a speaker on the first ballot was 1923.

In addition to Republican Jim Jordan, incoming Majority Leader Steve Scalise, 57, from Louisiana, was seen as a possibility.

Mr Jordan himself had spoken in support of McCarthy before he was nominated, and all three times voted for him.

“We need to rally around him,” Mr Jordan had said in an impassioned speech on the House floor on Tuesday.

“I think Kevin McCarthy’s the right guy to lead us.”

Mr Jordan is a staunch ally of Mr Trump and a co-founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

A former college wrestler, Mr Jordan is preparing to oversee the House Judiciary Committee’s investigation of the Justice Department and FBI under Mr Biden.

Mr McCarthy’s hardline opponents are concerned that he is not deeply invested enough in the culture wars and partisan rivalries that have dominated the House — and even more so since Trump’s White House years.

Before the vote, Mr McCarthy tried to persuade the holdouts during a closed-door party meeting, vowing to stay in the race until he gets the necessary votes, but many participants emerged from the gathering undaunted.

Mr McCarthy suggested to reporters later on Tuesday that the path to him becoming speaker lay in members voting “present” — neither for nor against him — which would lower the threshold needed to secure the job.

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