Kevin McCarthy’s dreams of becoming Speaker of the House were fading fast on Wednesday, as the California congressman lost a historic sixth ballot amid sustained opposition from an intransigent group of Republican party rebels.

Despite an eleventh-hour intervention from former president Donald Trump encouraging Republicans to rally around McCarthy, 20 Republicans voted against him in a sixth ballot, depriving him once again of the simple majority required to take hold of the Speaker’s gavel.

The two-day gridlock raised fresh questions about whether McCarthy has a viable path to seize the Speaker’s position, and unleashed chaos on the House floor, as Republicans sought to hash out a way forward. The House voted to adjourn after the sixth vote on Wednesday afternoon in an effort to give lawmakers a chance to come up with a plan to break the impasse. The chamber was expected to reconvene at 8PM local time.

McCarthy made history on Tuesday when he became the first majority party leader in a century to lose on the first ballot. In 1923, it took nine rounds of voting before a Speaker was elected.

McCarthy’s multiple defeats came even after Trump sought to rally support, posting on his Truth Social platform: “It’s now time for all our GREAT Republican House members to VOTE FOR KEVIN, CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE THE VICTORY.”

Lauren Boebert, one of the Republican rebels and a Trump loyalist, was defiant on Wednesday, saying her “favourite president” had called to tell them to “knock this off”.

“The president needs to tell Kevin McCarthy that, sir, you do not have the votes, and it’s time to withdraw,” Boebert said in a speech on the House floor. Boebert and the other rebels have thrown their weight behind Byron Donalds of Florida.

McCarthy has so far resisted calls for him to step aside, and it remains unclear whether any Republican would be able to successfully unite the party’s warring factions and secure the simple majority of votes require to become Speaker. But many in Washington have speculated that McCarthy’s deputy, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, would be the natural alternative.

Joe Biden, the Democratic US president, on Wednesday morning called the House proceedings “a little embarrassing”, adding: “How do you think this looks to the rest of the world?”

“This is not a good look, this is not a good thing,” Biden told reporters at the White House. “This is the United States of America, and I hope they get their act together.”

Democrats, who lost their House majority in last November’s midterm elections, have so far voted against McCarthy and instead backed their nominee for Speaker, Democratic congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York. Democratic leaders have publicly demurred at suggestions that they might form a coalition with McCarthy or other more centrist Republicans to break the stalemate.

McCarthy’s opponents have come from various factions of the Republican party, and include Trump loyalists such as Florida’s Matt Gaetz and Boebert, as well as ultraconservatives such as Chip Roy of Texas and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who are pushing for rule changes that would make it easier to call a vote of no confidence in a future Speaker.

The failed votes have ushered in a historic moment of gridlock in Washington, as the House is constitutionally required to elect a Speaker and cannot start governing until one is selected.

The stalemate has also underscored long-simmering tensions in the Republican party, which remains fractured after a disappointing performance in the midterm elections. Despite expectations of a “red wave”, Republicans eked out a razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of Congress, and failed to take back control of the Senate, the upper chamber.

Many Republicans in Washington have blamed those failures on Trump, who played a key role in the primary process by pushing his preferred candidates — many of whom later failed at the ballot box. The former president nevertheless has sought to reassert himself as kingmaker in the party, especially with an eye towards the 2024 presidential contest. Trump launched his third presidential bid just days after the midterms, and no other candidate has entered the ring to challenge him.

Trump’s support for McCarthy marks the latest chapter in a rollercoaster relationship between the two men. For years, Trump frequently referred to the congressman as “my Kevin”. But McCarthy reportedly said “I’ve had it with this guy” after the January 6 2021 attack on the US Capitol, before smiling in photos with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort just weeks later.

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