Groundhog Day as US speaker vote plays on never-ending loop

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  • US Republicans have still been able to elect a speaker.
  • 20 right-wing hold-outs have prevented the election of Kevin McCarthy.
  • Multiple polls in the chamber failed to produce a winner.

Groundhog Day came to the US Congress a month early.

Each round is the same: Candidates are announced, speeches are made, votes are taken, a long count ensues and then comes the clerk's seemingly inevitable announcement: "A speaker has not been elected."

The repetitive loop has been playing on the floor of the House of Representatives since Tuesday, as the body grapples to elect its next leader but only slips further into chaos with each attempt.

There are no windows in the cavernous chamber and time floats between votes in what begins to feel like one long, never-ending day.

READ | Despite Trump plea, 'Taliban 20' blocks Kevin McCarthy's bid for US House speaker

Sitting toward the back under a clock that seems to mock the lawmakers' progress, a group of some 20 Republican rebels who are responsible for the stalled vote has gathered.

Many are members of the House Freedom Caucus, a collection of some of the most staunchly right-wing Republicans in the lower chamber of Congress. They are the epitome of former president Donald Trump's loyalists.

The group has promised to do everything in its power to prevent party favourite Kevin McCarthy's bid to become speaker, effectively paralysing the entire process.

Outside, in the galleries that surround the chamber, lawmakers are trying to negotiate an end to the madness, popping back to announce their vote when the time comes.

The vast majority of Republicans want to put an end to the revolt, and most were overcome with impatience by the 11th round on the third day, with the outcome still anything but certain.

Jefferson Van Drew, a Republican lawmaker from New York wearing a white pair of cowboy boots, looked on with annoyance.

Representative Nicole Malliotakis, who was seated in the front row, rubbed her hands as she attempted to warm up. When her time to vote came, it was two-part: "Kevin McCarthy, and can you lower the air conditioning?" she pleaded.

Others simply dozed, with no end to the process in sight. Not even on Friday.

The mood has echoes of the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, in which a hapless weatherman played by actor Bill Murray becomes trapped in a time loop, reliving the same day over and over again.

C-SPAN, a US public service television network that covers government proceedings, is generally subject to strict rules about authorised shots. 

To the delight of viewers, the lengthy voting meant it captured lawmakers with their guard down - chatting, yawning, laughing, being a bit more human than usual.

Among Democrats, the goal has always been to use this moment to highlight Republican division.

Members of the party are voting for their leader, Hakeem Jeffries, as speaker. But without a majority in the Republican-controlled House, there is no hope.

Comfortably seated on brown chairs, lawmakers in the chamber's second row exchanged the latest newspapers. A few rows behind them, progressive darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made faces to amuse one of her colleague's babies.

Far in the back, a man wearing a red tie took advantage of one of the many standing ovations that punctuate the endless speeches to stretch.

The newly elected officials, who have not yet been sworn in due to the lack of a speaker, took pictures alongside the chamber's outgoing leader Nancy Pelosi - still waiting for her replacement.

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