WASHINGTON - U.S. House Republicans are expected to pick Representative Elise Stefanik for a top leadership spot Friday, sending a powerful message about the direction of the party by elevating the New York congresswoman noted for her support of former President Donald Trump.
Stefanik, 36, would take over the position of House GOP Conference chair from Representative Liz Cheney, who was removed Wednesday after calling Trump’s allegations of fraud in the 2020 presidential election “a big lie.”
Stefanik’s bid for the third most powerful position in the House Republican caucus caps a shift from a largely unknown lawmaker with a moderate voting record representing the once-Democratic New York 21st Congressional District to a media star who earned the attention of Trump during his first impeachment trial.
'Better at the show'
“Former President Donald Trump does not think that ideology, issues or policy really are what drives elections; he believes that it's all about the show. And he believes that Representative Stefanik is better at the show than Representative Cheney,” said Lara Brown, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University in Washington.
Trump endorsed Stefanik on his blog Monday, writing, “The House GOP has a massive opportunity to upgrade this week from warmonger Liz Cheney to gifted communicator Elise Stefanik.”
He continued, “We need someone in leadership who has experience flipping districts from Blue to Red as we approach the important 2022 midterms, and that’s Elise! She knows how to win, which is what we need.”
In her first interview since announcing she would run for conference chair, Stefanik told former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon last week that she saw the job as an opportunity “to represent the majority of the House Republicans, and the vast majority of the House Republicans support President Trump, and they support his focus on election integrity and election security.”
Cheney’s statements on the presidential vote revived the debate within the Republican Party over Trump’s unsubstantiated claims he won the November election over Democrat Joe Biden. Those claims culminated in his supporters rioting at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 to try to prevent the counting of Electoral College votes for Biden. The worst security breach on the Capitol in more than two centuries left five people dead.
'War with the Constitution'
“The election is over. That is the rule of law. That is our constitutional process. Those who refuse to accept the rulings of our courts are at war with the Constitution,” Cheney said on the House floor Tuesday. “Our duty is clear. Every one of us who has sworn the oath must act to prevent the unraveling of our democracy. This is not about policy. This is not about partisanship. This is about our duty as Americans.”
In a Monday letter ahead of the vote, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, “These internal conflicts need to be resolved so as to not detract from the efforts of our collective team. Having heard from so many of you in recent days, it’s clear that we need to make a change.”
In February, Cheney was the top-ranking Republican to vote to impeach Trump for inciting that riot. McCarthy did not vote to impeach but said on the House floor, “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters.”
But McCarthy endorsed Stefanik for the leadership spot earlier this week, saying Republicans “need to be united.”
A four-term member of Congress, Stefanik has a far more moderate voting record than Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Stefanik grew up in upstate New York and was the first in her family to earn a college degree, according to her official biography. Stefanik’s district voted for former President Barack Obama twice before flipping to Trump in the 2016 election. According to her office, Stefanik won “both 2018 and 2020 by the largest margin of any Republican in the Northeast.”
Stefanik is also a top Republican fundraiser, raising $15 million in the last election cycle while campaigning heavily to elect more Republican women into office.
The New York lawmaker was also one of 138 House Republicans who objected to the 2020 election results, saying, “Tens of millions of Americans are concerned that the 2020 election featured unconstitutional overreach by unelected state officials and judges ignoring state election laws. We can and we should peacefully and respectfully discuss these concerns."
But George Washinton University’s Brown said Stefanik will have to be careful not to be a top target for a Democratic takeover during the 2022 midterm election.
“She is also still in a very competitive district. And while she may be wooing the Republican base, she is also now distancing herself from the independents and moderates who were in her district who helped her win election,” Brown said.