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Deadlock deepens in US House speaker showdown

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States (US) House of Representatives had to adjourn as bitter infighting within the Republican ranks continues to paralyse the chamber and prevent the election of a new Speaker.

Conservative hardliners have spurned former president Donald Trump’s pick Kevin McCarthy, who they accuse of being too moderate, making the 2023 speakership race the first in a century to require multiple rounds of voting.

Despite six ballots over two days, McCarthy has failed to secure the 218 votes needed for the speakership, the third most powerful role in US politics after the presidency and vice presidency.

Without a speaker, the chamber is unable to swear in members, start filling committees, tackle legislation or open any of the investigations they have promised into President Joe Biden.

Unable to break the stalemate, the House abruptly adjourned until noon yesterday, allowing Republicans a few precious hours to regroup and settle on a new strategy before going back into the fray.

Roughly 20 Republicans have blocked the California congressman’s path to the gavel until he capitulates to their agenda, leaving the party unable to capitalise so far on the slim majority it secured in November’s mid-term elections.

Representative Patrick McHenry and Representative Tom Emmer speak with Representative Kevin McCarthy in the House chamber. PHOTO: AP

McCarthy, a member of the Republican leadership for more than a decade, has already agreed to many of the group’s demands, but opposition to his candidacy from within his own party has only seemed to harden.

Americans “want a new face, new vision, new leadership”, Texas Congressman Chip Roy said from the floor on Wednesday.

Biden called the Republican failure to elect a speaker “embarrassing for the country”, and said the “rest of the world” was closely watching.

McCarthy’s supporters have grown increasingly frustrated by the political standoff, especially as no credible competitor has emerged.

Two McCarthy loyalists – incoming House majority leader Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan, a darling of the right – look like the most viable alternatives.

McCarthy – who has raised millions of dollars to elect right-wing lawmakers – dragged his party back to a 222-212 House majority in last year’s mid-terms after four years in the wilderness.

The 57-year-old former entrepreneur has long coveted the opportunity to replace Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who held the gavel in the last Congress.

But McCarthy’s speaker bid has opened a troubling rift within the House Republicans.

The standoff sparked frantic behind-the-scenes negotiations as McCarthy’s allies sought to cut a deal with his conservative detractors that could also win the approval of moderates.

US media reported that the rival sides were in talks about setting up a “negotiating group” to hash out their differences.

No House business can take place without a speaker, meaning lawmakers-elect have to continue voting until someone wins a majority.

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