Republicans chose Mike Johnson as their latest nominee for House speaker late on Tuesday, hours after an earlier pick, Tom Emmer, abruptly withdrew in the face of opposition from Donald Trump and hardline Republicans.
Mr Johnson of Louisiana, a lower-ranked member of the House Republican leadership team, becomes the fourth nominee after Mr Emmer and the others fell short in what has become an almost absurd cycle of political infighting since Kevin McCarthy’s ouster as party factions jockey for power.
Refusing to unify, far-right members will not accept a more traditional speaker and more moderate members do not want a hardliner.
Mr Johnson immediately faced a roll call behind closed doors to test his support ahead of a House floor vote, when he will need almost all Republicans to win the gavel.
Three weeks on, the Republicans are frittering away their majority status — a maddening embarrassment to some, democracy in action to others, but not at all how the House is expected to function.
After he withdrew on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Emmer briskly left the building where he had been meeting privately with Republicans, but he returned later to offices at the Capitol. He said Mr Trump’s opposition did not affect his decision to bow out.
“I made my decision based on my relationship with the conference,” he said, referring to the Republican majority.
He said he would support whomever emerges as the new nominee.
Mr Trump, speaking as he left the courtroom in New York where he faces business fraud charges, said his “un-endorsement” must have had an impact on Mr Emmer’s bid.
“He wasn’t MAGA,” said Mr Trump, the party’s front-runner for the 2024 presidential election, referring to his Make America Great Again campaign slogan.
House Republicans returned behind closed doors, where they spend much of their time, desperately searching for a leader who can unite the factions, reopen the House and get the US Congress working again.
Attention quickly turned to Mr Johnson of Louisiana, a member of party leadership who was the second highest vote-getter on Tuesday’s internal ballots. He earned 128 votes in the evening vote.
A lawyer specialising in constitutional issues, Mr Johnson had rallied Republicans around Mr Trump’s legal effort to overturn the 2020 election results.
But hardliners swiftly resisted Mr Johnson’s bid and a new list of candidates emerged within minutes of an evening deadline.
Among them was Byron Donalds of Florida, a Trump ally who ran third on the morning ballot, and a few others. Mr McCarthy, who was not on the ballot, won a surprising 43 votes.
One idea circulating, first reported by NBC News, was to reinstall Mr McCarthy as speaker with hardliner Jim Jordan in a new leadership role.
It was being pitched as a way to unite the conference, politicians said, but they were not certain it would fly.