Top Republican Party leader Kevin McCarthy has failed in an initial two votes to become speaker of the US House of Representatives after a rebellion by members of his own party.
Mr McCarthy secured just 203 votes in the first ballot on Tuesday night, 15 short of the 218 majority he needed and nine fewer than the 212 won by the Democratic nominee, Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
In the second vote Mr McCarthy’s Republican opponents coalesced around another senior party figure, Jim Jordan if Ohio, even though Mr Jordan gave the speech nominating Mr McCarthy for the second round of voting.
The House was set to hold further votes in an attempt to break the deadlock over who will take the post of speaker in succession to Democrat Nancy Pelosi.
The position of House speaker is hugely important in the US political system and is in the direct line of succession to the White House after the vice-president.
Republicans secured a narrow majority in the House following the midterm elections in November, leaving the party in position to secure the speaker’s gavel.
Mr McCarthy, from California, who was the official nominee of the Republican Party, could afford to have only about four members vote against him given its slender majority. However, a group of right-wing Republican members had vowed not to support Mr McCarthy for the position.
Some Republicans nominated another member of their party, Andy Biggs of Arizona, to be speaker in opposition to Mr McCarthy who drew support away from the official nominee. Mr Biggs secured 10 votes.
A total of 19 Republicans voted for members other than Mr McCarthy in both ballots.
All Democratic members of the House voted for their new leader in the chamber, Mr Jeffries, who was elected to the post in the party following the retirement of Ms Pelosi late last year.
The initial vote on Tuesday was the first time in 100 years that a nominee had not succeeded in being elected to the House speakership on the first ballot.
Mr McCarthy at the weekend made a series of concessions to his right-wing critics in a bid to secure their support before the vote for speaker on Tuesday. He had agreed to allow a snap vote aimed at removing a speaker if the proposal had the backing of five Republicans in the House.
Some of Mr McCarthy’s allies had previously maintained that such a provision would essentially make the speaker a hostage to extreme elements in the party.
However, Mr McCarthy’s concessions at the weekend were not sufficient for some right-wing members who voted against him anyway in the initial ballot for speaker.
At a meeting of his party members ahead of the first vote on Tuesday, Mr McCarthy said he had “earned the job” of speaker after the party won control of the House for the first time since 2018.
Mr McCarthy indicated to his party that he would fight on to win the speakership. “I am not going away,” he said.