WASHINGTON — For a long and frustrating third day, divided Republicans kept the US House speaker’s chair vacant Thursday as party leader Kevin McCarthy repeatedly failed to cast an excruciating string of ballots and seize the chamber’s gavel. failed to win enough GOP votes to

The pressure was mounting as McCarthy lost the seventh, eighth, and then the historic ninth and 10th rounds of voting, the last time this happened 100 years ago in a long battle to choose a speaker in a disputed election.

With McCarthy’s supporters and opponents locked in a stalemate, the House could not formally open for the new session of Congress. And feelings of boredom, frustration, and annoyance became increasingly apparent.

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a critic of McCarthy, cast two rounds of votes for Donald Trump — a symbolic but clear sign of the wider divide over the future of the Republican Party. Then he went further, venturing to the absurdity of formally nominating a former president as House Speaker in the 11th vote.

As the night approached on the second anniversary of the January 6, 2021, attempt by Trump supporters at the Capitol to overturn Joe Biden’s election, Democrats said it was time to get serious.

“This hallowed House of Representatives needs a leader,” said Democrat Joe Neguse of Colorado, nominating his own party’s leader, Hakeem Jeffries, as speaker.

McCarthy can be seen talking back to back in the House chamber, in a whispered and animated conversation. His messengers walked up to the holdout, and down the hall a fierce conversation took place in the GOP whip’s office. McCarthy was determined to persuade Republicans to end the paralyzing debate that has plagued his new GOP majority.

McCarthy’s leadership team had presented a core group of Republican holdouts with a deal on paper in exchange for their support, said Ralph Norman, a conservative Republican from South Carolina, after he walked out of the meeting late. “It’s good,” Norman said of the changes, which would include mandating 72 hours for bills to be posted before votes, though details were scarce.

Lest expectations outstrip reality, he added, “It’s a phase.”

Holdouts led by the chamber’s Freedom Caucus are looking for ways to reduce the power of the speaker’s office and give more influence to rank-and-file lawmakers — with seats on key committees and a more open process drafting bills. Ability to make and amend.

“We’re having good discussions and I think everybody wants to find a solution,” McCarthy told reporters hours earlier.

Some members of the House Freedom Caucus – U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., at microphone, (from left) Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., Rep. Louis Goehrt, R-Texas, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa. — Speak to reporters at the Capitol in December.

The House, which accounts for half of Congress, is essentially at a standstill, unable to begin a new session, swear in elected members and conduct official functions.

Still, despite endless negotiations, signs of concessions and a public spectacle unlike any other in recent political memory, the way forward remained highly uncertain. What began as a political novelty, the first time since 1923 that no candidate had won the gavel on the first vote, is deepening into a bitter Republican Party feud and potential crisis.

Jeffries of New York received the most votes on every ballot, but fell short of a majority. McCarthy advanced to second on no bases.

McCarthy protested under mounting pressure that a vote was needed either way or split so that the House could fully open and proceed with the business of governing.

The incoming Republican chairs of the House foreign affairs, armed services and intelligence committees said national security was at risk.

“The Biden administration is running out of control and the White House has no oversight,” Republicans Michael McCaul, Mike Rogers and Mike Turner wrote in a joint statement. “We cannot allow personal politics to jeopardize the safety and security of the United States of America.”

But McCarthy’s right-wing detractors appeared intent on waiting him out for as long as it took.

Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Scott Perry, R-PA, insisted that McCarthy could not be trusted, and tweeted his displeasure that negotiations over rule changes and other concessions were being made public.

He tweeted, “When trust is betrayed and leaks directed, it’s even more difficult to trust.”

Republican Party holdouts repeatedly put forward the name of Representative Byron Donalds of Florida, assuring the standoff that the growing interweaving of race and politics will continue. He also put forward Republican Kevin Hearn of Oklahoma, splitting the opposition vote.

Donald, who is black, is seen as a rising leader of the party and the GOP counterpoint to Democratic leader, Jefferies, who is the first black leader of a major political party in the US Congress and has positioned himself to become speaker someday. are tracking.

Another black Republican, newly elected John James, nominated McCarthy on the seventh ballot as the nominees became a roll call of GOP rising stars. Brian Mast of Florida, a veteran, appeared to wipe away a tear as he nominated McCarthy in eighth place, and insisted that the California Republican was not like past GOP speakers who are ridiculed by conservatives. For the ninth ballot, Troy Nehls of Texas, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, took the nomination. For the 10th it was newly elected Juan Ciccomani of Arizona, an immigrant from Mexico, whose speech “USA!” America!”

Nehls told his allies, “This battle we are fighting must end.”

A new generation of conservative Republicans, many aligned with Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda, want to elevate business as usual in Washington and are committed to preventing McCarthy’s rise without concessions to his priorities.

To gain support, McCarthy has already agreed to many of his opponents’ demands.

One of the keys to the holdouts is reinstating a rule that would allow a single legislator to seek a motion to vacate the chair — essentially calling a House vote to oust the speaker. It’s the same rule that Republican GOP chairman John Boehner threatened to oust in the previous Tea Party era, and McCarthy has opposed reinstating it.

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., who has been nominated for Speaker of the House, speaks to reporters on the steps of the House on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in Washington, DC.

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., the nominee for Speaker of the House, speaks to reporters on the steps of the House on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

Jacqueline Martin/Associated Press

But those who oppose McCarthy don’t all have the same complaints, and he may never win some of them. Many Republicans appear unwilling to vote for McCarthy ever again.

The polls continued to produce nearly identical results, with 20 conservative holdouts still refusing to endorse McCarthy and leaving him far short of the 218 usually needed to win the gavel.

In fact, McCarthy saw his support slip to 201, as a fellow Republican switched to only being present and subsequently voting for 200. With a GOP majority of only 222 seats, he couldn’t drop the vote.

Thursday was the third long day. The new Republican majority was not expected to be in session on Friday, the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. A protracted and divisive speaker’s battle will almost certainly underscore the fragility of American democracy after an attempted insurrection two years ago.

California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker, said in a tweet, “We must open the House and get on with the work of the people.”

Some Republicans appear to be increasingly uncomfortable with the way the party has taken office after the midterm elections, only to see the new majority upstage the chamber in the speaker’s race in its first days.

Colorado Republican Ken Buck voted for McCarthy but said Wednesday he told her “she needs to figure out how to make a deal going forward” or eventually fall out to someone else.

Right-wing conservatives, led by the Freedom Caucus and aligned with former President Trump, were incensed by the impasse – even though Trump publicly supported McCarthy.

The disorganized start to the new Congress pointed to the difficulties faced by Republicans now in control of the House, just as some previous Republican speakers, including John Boehner, had trouble leading a rebellious right wing. Result: government shutdown, impasse, and Boehner’s early retirement.

The longest battle for the gavel began in late 1855 and lasted two months with 133 ballots, during debates over slavery during the Civil War.

AP writers Marie Claire Jalonic and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

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