The mood had evolved since Tuesday, when there was a jubilant cacophony of families assembled for the start of the 118th Congress. Lawmakers had their loved ones watching from the gallery above the House floor or had children beside them, waiting for the swearing-in and celebratory photos of the big day.
The families in the gallery diminished on Wednesday, when it seemed clear no oath of office would be administered and that there would be no photos with the speaker — whoever that might be — taken any time in the near future.
But the House floor was frenetic. Mr. Gaetz held animated conversations as Democrats and Republicans heckled each other during windy nominating speeches. A vote to adjourn for the evening erupted into shouting.
Some took advantage of the fray. Representative-elect George Santos, the incoming Republican from New York who was dogged by his lies about his background, was surrounded by reporters on Tuesday. He spent much of his time in the House chamber alone. But as attention shifted away from him on Wednesday, he started to chat more readily with his colleagues. By Thursday, he was sitting with some of Mr. Gaetz’s allies, who were apparently happy to welcome him into the fold.
Another advantage went to C-SPAN. With nobody in charge of the House, the cable network has faced few restrictions on what its cameras can broadcast. Instead of the usual wide shots, C-SPAN captured lawmakers negotiating, and the irritation, ire and awkwardness that often goes with it.
But by Thursday afternoon, meetings between the Republican leadership and the defectors had largely moved behind closed doors, meaning there was less action on the floor. Some small details stood out: Representative Lauren Underwood, an Illinois Democrat, returned from a break during the eighth ballot and was perplexed someone had taken the seat she had been reliably occupying for days. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks, an Iowa Republican, brought a gold football helmet to the floor.
Other members tried to make the votes more interesting. Mr. Gaetz broke from precedent by voting for former President Donald Trump. Representative Lauren Boebert, the Colorado Republican who is one of the most outspoken opponents of Mr. McCarthy, teased the room by saying during the eighth vote that she was changing her vote to a Kevin — Representative Kevin Hern of Oklahoma.
Emily Cochrane and Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.