For a long and frustrating third day, divided Republicans kept the Speaker's chair of the U.S. House sitting empty Thursday, as party leader Kevin McCarthy failed again and again in an excruciating string of ballots to win enough Republican votes to seize the chamber's gavel.
By nightfall, despite raucous protests from Democrats, Republicans voted to adjourn and return Friday at noon to try again.
Pressure was building as McCarthy lost seventh, eighth and then historic ninth and 10th rounds of voting, surpassing the number it took the last time this happened, 100 years ago, in a prolonged fight to choose a Speaker in a disputed election. The House then moved onto an 11th round, which McCarthy proceeded to lose again.
With McCarthy's supporters and foes locked in stalemate, the House could not formally open for the new session of Congress. And feelings of boredom, desperation and annoyance seemed increasingly evident.
One McCarthy critic, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, even cast his votes in two rounds for Donald Trump, a symbolic but pointed sign of the broader divisions over the Republican Party's future. Then he went further, moving the day from protest toward the absurd in formally nominating the former president to be House Speaker in the 11th vote.
As night fell on the eve of the second anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters trying to overturn Joe Biden's election, Democrats said it was time to get serious.
"This sacred House of Representatives needs a leader," said Democrat Joe Neguse of Colorado, nominating his own party's leader, Hakeem Jeffries, as Speaker.
McCarthy could be seen talking, one on one, in whispered conversations in the House chamber.
His emissaries sidled up to holdouts, and gruelling negotiations proceeded in the Republican whip's office down the hall. McCarthy remained determined to persuade Republicans to end the paralyzing debate that has blighted his new majority.
McCarthy's leadership team had presented a core group of the Republican holdouts with a deal on paper in exchange for their support, said one of the opponents, conservative Republican Ralph Norman of South Carolina, as he exited a late-day meeting.
"It's good," Norman said, about changes that would include mandating 72 hours for bills to be posted before votes, though details were scarce.
Lest hopes get ahead of reality, he noted, "This is round one."
What started as a political novelty, the first time since 1923 a nominee had not won the gavel on the first vote, has devolved into a bitter Republican Party feud and deepening potential crisis.
Jeffries of New York was repeatedly renominated by his fellow Democrats. He has won the most votes on every ballot but also remained short of a majority. McCarthy ran second, gaining no ground.