Less than 48 hours after booting Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., from her position as GOP Conference Chair, House Republicans on Friday morning voted Rep. Elise Stefanik into the lower chamber’s No. 3 job, making the New York lawmaker the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress.
The switch jettisons the anti-Trump, old-guard Cheney – the eldest daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney – in favor of Stefanik, who won the vote over last-minute challenger Rep. Chip Roy, R-Tex., 134-46, with 9 members voting "present" and 3 choosing a write-in candidate. Stefanik's path to victory was essentially cleared after she secured the enthusiastic support of former President Donald Trump, who also released a statement Thursday night slamming Roy.
"Congratulations to Elise Stefanik for her Big and Overwhelming victory!" Trump said in a post-vote statement. "The House GOP is united and the Make America Great Again movement is Strong!"
Stefanik, 36, has told House Republicans she only plans to serve a single term and is then hoping to nab the top spot on the House Education and Labor Committee, Politico reported. Speaking with reporters immediately after the vote, Stefanik thanked Trump for his support and called the potential 2024 presidential candidate "a critical part of our Republican team."
"I believe that voters determine the leader of the Republican Party, and President Trump is the leader that they look to," Stefanik said, according to CNN. "I support President Trump, voters support President Trump. He is an important voice in our Republican Party."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and Stefanik repeatedly cited their party's unity in remarks to reporters on Friday before pivoting to the "numerous crises" emerging under Biden. That messaging was also present in the official statement Stefanik released after winning the vote. The mirroring talking points by themselves illustrated a clear difference between Stefanik and Cheney, whose recent anti-Trump remarks drew a clear distinction between herself and the other members of leadership and often distracted from Republican critiques of Biden.
"I'm truly honored and humbled to earn the support of my colleagues to serve as House Republican Conference Chair," Stefanik said in the Friday statement. "House Republicans are united in our focus to fight on behalf of the American people to save our country from the radical Socialist Democrat agenda of President Biden and [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi."
She added: "The American people are experiencing an economic crisis due to Far-Left radical policies. House Republicans will continue to put forth policies focused on growing our economy and getting people back to work, reopening our schools, promoting American energy independence, securing our border, strengthening our national security, and protecting our Constitution."
Stefanik faced some opposition for the No. 3 spot – Roy made his 11th-hour bid to prevent what he called a "coronation" – but, in the end, Politico reported that Stefanik allayed concerns about her conservative bona fides to enough colleagues to land the post.
Cheney, 54, the most high-profile of 10 GOP lawmakers who voted to impeach Trump in connection with the U.S. Capitol breach, was censured by the Wyoming GOP but still survived a February vote to oust her as Republican chair. The tipping point came as Cheney continued, over the past several months, to publicly bash Trump and even any of his supporters who question the integrity of the 2020 presidential election.
Things got so bad that, on May 4, Axios reported House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was caught on a "Fox and Friends" hot mic saying: "I’ve had it with her. You know, I’ve lost confidence."
In a Washington Post op-ed issued May 5 – the same day Trump backed Stefanik for leadership – Cheney blasted the former president and the "anti-democratic Trump cult of personality."
"History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process," Cheney wrote. "I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be."
Cheney reportedly made little effort to save her position in leadership during a relatively quick meeting on Wednesday morning, according to comments made to reporters by one of Cheney’s few supporters, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ohio.
Near the end of the 20-minute huddle, Cheney was officially sacked in an overwhelming voice vote.
She greeted reporters after the vote by vowing to continue the anti-Trump crusade: "I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office."
Cheney, elected to Congress in 2016, had been her party’s House Chair for about two years. She’s set to face a flood of candidates from her own party seeking to unseat her in Wyoming’s next primary, the Gillette News Record reported, and recent polls – such as a late January survey commissioned by Trump’s team – have shown her support among constituents has dropped to anemic levels.
Stefanik was elected out of an upstate New York district in 2014 at the age of 30, becoming, at that time, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. A fellow New Yorker, 29-year-old Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, claimed the record from Stefanik in 2018.
Stefanik was initially known as a more pragmatic and moderate Republican, though she – cautiously – supported Trump as her party’s 2016 nominee, according to sweeping New York Times and Wall Street Journal profiles. As Trump made his mark on the GOP as president, however, Stefanik emerged as something of a MAGA convert and by 2019 was one of Trump’s most staunch and vocal defenders in the House.
That included a much-publicized dustup with Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., during the hearings leading up to Trump’s first impeachment, a performance that earned Stefanik a powerful fan. "A new Republican star is born. Great going @EliseStefanik!" Trump tweeted in November 2019 along with a video clip from the hearings.
Stefanik has won each of her congressional elections with at least 55% of the vote and in 2018 created Elevate PAC, a fundraising venture designed to aid Republican women candidates nationwide.
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