Kevin McCarthy elected Republican US House speaker

© Win McNamee, Getty Images via AFP

Republican Kevin McCarthy was elected speaker of the US House of Representatives early on Saturday, after making extensive concessions to a group of right-wing hardliners that raised questions about the party's ability to govern.

The 57-year-old Californian suffered one final humiliation when Representative Matt Gaetz withheld his vote on the 14th ballot as midnight approached, prompting a scuffle in which fellow Republican Mike Rogers had to be physically pulled away.

McCarthy's victory in the 15th ballot brought an end to the deepest congressional dysfunction in 160 years. But it sharply illustrated the difficulties that he will face in leading a narrow and deeply polarized majority.

He won at last on a margin of 216-211. He was able to be elected with the votes of fewer than half the House members only because five in his own party withheld their votes - not backing McCarthy as leader, but also not voting for another contender.

McCarthy agreed to a demand by hardliners that any lawmaker be able call for his removal at any time. That will sharply cut the power he will hold when trying to pass legislation on critical issues including funding the government, addressing the nation's looming debt ceiling and other crises that may arise.

"We got the things that are transformational," said Republican Representative Ralph Norman, who voted to back McCarthy after opposing him for much of the week.

Democrats worried that the concessions McCarthy agreed to could lead to sharp cuts to popular social programs.


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