Elise Stefanik becomes next GOP conference chair, replacing Liz Cheney
WASHINGTON – House Republicans elected Rep. Elise Stefanik to their third-ranking leadership position Friday, completing a shift from Rep. Liz Cheney, a fierce critic of former President Donald Trump who voted to impeach him, to a lawmaker who vocally defended him.
Stefanik of New York was elected conference chair, to serve with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Cheney was ousted from the post by a voice vote Wednesday.
Speaking Friday after the vote, Stefanik said called herself a “proud, conservative Republican” who would help lead her party to victory in the mid-term elections next year.
“We are going on offense and we are going to win on the issues,” Stefanik said. “We are going to win the majority in 2022.”
Stefanik, 36, represents a generational change from Cheney, 54, as the party strives to regain control of Congress in 2022. But the change in Republican leadership derived more from their relationship to Trump than to customary political gauges, such as conservative credentials or seniority.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., arrives Friday to the U.S. Capitol, where House GOP members will hold an election for a new chair of the House Republican Conference to replace Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)
Cheney had been rated more conservative than Stefanik, with an 80% lifetime rating from Heritage Action for America, a conservative advocacy group, compared to 48% for Stefanik. Cheney was also rated more supportive of Trump, voting with him 92.9% of the time, compared to 77.7% for Stefanik, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, jumped into the race late Thursday evening after conservatives within the conference argued for someone more legislatively conservative and against the speed of the process.
Speaking to reporters after a candidate forum Thursday, Roy said he “highlighted policy issues” and said “you see a pretty clear distinction” between himself and Stefanik. Roy declined to discuss how he distinguished himself from Stefanik. But he said the debate was a healthy way to discuss what Americans care about, such as “gas prices, open borders and China, Israel getting attacked.”
“This is all about having a robust debate and discussion about the issues for the Congress for the House Republicans and our visions where we’re leading the country forward,” Roy said. “We’re having a robust debate about issues here and it’s a good thing. This is a healthy thing.”
The final vote tally Friday was 134-46, according to sources in the room.
Earlier in the week, he had circulated a memo to Republican colleagues arguing against placing Stefanik in leadership. Roy’s three-page memo noted a dozen times Stefanik voted against Trump’s agenda, including against his signature tax cut and border security measures. She also voted in favor of a drilling ban in the Gulf of Mexico.
President Donald Trump, left, listens as Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., speaks before signing a $716 billion defense policy bill at Fort Drum, N.Y. on Aug. 13, 2018. (Photo: Hans Pennink, AP)
Several conservative Republicans said this week they preferred competition to Stefanik. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said he was “always for having multiple choices.” Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., said Stefanik shouldn’t run unopposed.
McCarthy said Thursday it was “healthy” that members got to debate the leadership position and the conference’s future.
Cheney was one of 10 Republicans in the House who voted Jan. 13 to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection a week earlier at the Capitol. The Senate acquitted Trump in both impeachments.
Trump endorsed Stefanik and blasted Cheney as “a bitter, horrible human being.” He also predicted she would lose her seat representing Wyoming, where Trump supporters are campaigning against her.
The hostility is mutual. After the leadership vote, Cheney said she would “do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office.” She told the “Today” show if Trump wants to campaign against her, “bring it on.”
Stefanik, in contrast, became a vocal defender of Trump from her seat on the Intelligence Committee through Trump’s two impeachments.
“I’m proud of President Trump’s support,” Stefanik said. “He’s an important – the most important leader – in our party for voters and it’s going to be important that we work as a team to win the majority in 2022.”
During the first impeachment, which dealt with Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, Stefanik asked a former ambassador about the State Department prepping her for questions about Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden, serving on an energy company’s board.
When another lawmaker tried to give her more time to ask questions, Stefanik got into a heated exchange with the chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who refused to recognize her.
Stefanik became one of Trump’s informal defenders on the Hill.
“Trump has fought tirelessly to deliver results for all Americans, despite the Democrats’ baseless and illegal impeachment sham and the media’s endless obsession with it,” she said in August.
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