Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives will try for a third day on Thursday to select a leader after six failed votes have highlighted internal divisions and raised questions about their ability to govern.
The chamber’s top Republican, Kevin McCarthy, has failed to secure the majority needed for the powerful post of House speaker, as a faction of hard-line conservatives has refused to support him despite pressure from high-profile supporters like former President Donald Trump.
McCarthy, from California, led his party’s successful effort to win control of the chamber in the November 2022 presidential elections.
But his opponents view him as a dealmaker who may not have the stomach to force a showdown with President Joe Biden’s Democrats over government spending – their main point of leverage before the 2024 presidential election.
“Is he going to fight for us? Is he willing to shut the government down?” Representative Ralph Norman, one of at least 19 Republicans who have voted against him in every vote, told Reuters on Tuesday. “His history has not been that.”
McCarthy’s supporters, who outnumber opponents 10 to 1, have grown increasingly frustrated by their party’s inability to elect a leader, which is normally a routine vote at the outset of every two-year legislative session.
The delay has prevented individual lawmakers from taking their oaths of office and pursuing priorities like investigating the administration of the Democratic president.
“I’m getting a lot of messages from conservatives who are fed up with this,” said Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a McCarty supporter who has developed a reputation as one of the most confrontational members of Congress.
The leadership fight has provided a dismaying start for the new Republican majority in the House after the party managed to secure a slim 222-212 majority in November’s elections.
The last time the House failed to elect a speaker on the first ballot was in 1923, during a contest that took nine ballots to resolve.
The House is due to return at noon (1700 GMT) on Thursday.
McCarthy said late on Wednesday that he was making progress, but it was not clear whether he would win over the holdouts or if the party would have to search for an alternative.
Possibilities include number two House Republican Steve Scalise and Representative Jim Jordan – who received 20 votes when nominated on Tuesday. Both have said they backed McCarthy.
Republicans could also look to Democrats for help.
Democratic Representative Ro Khanna told Reuters he and others could support a moderate Republican who would agree to share subpoena power with Democrats and to avoid brinkmanship over government funding and the debt ceiling.
But House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters that Republicans have not reached out to discuss that option.
McCarthy’s supporters said they were sticking by him.
“You have 20 people demanding that 201 surrender to them unconditionally. Well, I am not going to surrender,” Republican Representative Trent Kelly said at a news conference on Wednesday evening.
Wednesday’s three failed votes – following three failed votes on Tuesday – also served as a rebuke to Trump, who had urged Republicans to unite behind McCarthy.
Trump remains an influential figure among Republicans and is so far the only announced presidential candidate for 2024. Some in the party have blamed Trump for the failure of Republicans to win more congressional seats in the midterms.
Some Republicans said the standoff was not likely to end soon. “It could go into the weekend. We hope it doesn’t, but it could,” said Representative Scott Perry, a McCarthy opponent.