Republican Kevin McCarthy has been elected as the new US Speaker after winning the 15th vote as tensions boiled over in Congress.

Mr McCarthy’s party had taken control of the House – the US lower chamber – following the midterm elections in the autumn, with a slim 222-212 majority.

Usually, election of the Speaker follows seamlessly, as a formality, with the leader of the largest party a shoo-in for the job.

However, recent splits in the Republican Partymeant that did not happen until the 15th round of voting.

In the 14th ballot, Mr McCarthy received 216 votes – one shy of the number needed for a victory – as a small faction of right-wing hardliners held out.

He finally won on a margin of 216-211.

He was elected with the votes of fewer than half the House members only because five in his own party withheld their votes – not backing Mr McCarthy as leader, but also not voting for another contender.

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“My father always told me, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” he told cheering fellow Republicans.

US President Joe Biden congratulated him on his success and said he is “prepared to work with Republicans” when he can.

However, the Republican party are now likely to unite to turn the fight on the President and the Democrats, with Mr McCarthy promising subpoenas and investigations.

“Now the hard work begins,” Mr McCarthy said.

‘Stay civil’

After four days of ballots, stretching into a 14th round, a tense exchange ensued, with Mr McCarthy seen walking to the back of the chamber to confront Rep. Matt Gaetz, who did not vote for him.

Mr Gaetz was one of the six remaining Republican holdouts, and voted “present” in the 14th and 15th round.

This essentially meant he registered that he was in the House for the vote, but did not back anyone as the next Speaker.

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‘An utterly extraordinary few hours’

A hostile back and forth took place after Mr McCarthy approached him, while a number of Republican lawmakers began to crowd them.

Rep. Mike Rogers, who did back Mr McCarthy in the vote, appeared to lunge in the direction of where Mr Gaetz was sitting, but was held back by other members.

“Stay civil,” someone was heard shouting.

Rep. Richard Hudson – another Mr McCarthy supporter – was also seen grabbing Mr Rogers around the mouth, but it was unclear what the argument was about.

Meanwhile, in another incident, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was seen waving a mobile phone around while on a phone call to a person saved as ‘DT’, implied to be Donald Trump.

Sharing the image on her Twitter account, the GOP member from Georgia wrote: “It was the perfect phone call.”

Despite many of the rebel Republicans being supporters of Mr Trump, the former president had repeatedly backed Mr McCarthy for Speaker.

McCarthy’s extensive concessions

A handful of far-right Republicans, from the conservative Freedom caucus, had felt Mr McCarthy was not conservative enough for the job, despite him agreeing to many of the detractors’ demands.

One of the most difficult requests that Mr McCarthy has agreed to is the reinstatement of a longstanding House rule that would allow any single member to call a vote to oust him from office.

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.

The Speaker is one of the most powerful positions in US politics, and this week’s failed votes marked the highest number of ballots for the speakership since 1859, two years before the start of the American Civil War.

Sessions to decide on the person for the job had rumbled on for hours in the chamber this week – one even topping eight hours.

What does the US Speaker do?

The Speaker of the House is one of the most powerful positions in US politics.

They oversee the daily business and set the running order in the House of Representatives.

Using their position, an effective Speaker can make or break a US President’s agenda, or, if from the same party as the President, effectively hinder opposition to their policies.

The Speaker is taken from the party with the largest majority in the House and so depending on their allegiances can be a help or a hindrance to the US President.

Previously the role was held by Democrat Nancy Pelosi. But after losing the House to the Republicans in the recent midterm elections, the position will now switch hands.

Since winning control of the House, Republicans have vowed to make voting investigations into US President Joe Biden and his family’s business dealings as a top priority.

In December, a White House statement accused House Republicans of planning to go after Biden “with politically motivated attacks chock full of long-debunked conspiracy theories”.