WASHINGTON—House Republican infighting plunged Congress into disarray this week. The larger risk is that fractiousness could imperil some basic functions of government in the coming year.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) prevailed in his quest to be speaker after being stymied by a small group of hard-line Republicans on 14 ballots this week. But the struggle to pick a House leader, typically a perfunctory process, previewed what could well be months of turmoil over spending issues in a narrowly divided House.

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