Liz Cheney’s Likely Successor
Elise Stefanik, one of Trump's foremost defenders, continues to promote his election lies.
Good morning and happy Friday. Last week, I asked for requests of lawmakers you’d like to hear from in a Q&A edition of Uphill. You had great responses, and we tried! I even sent screenshots of your comments to communications staffers to try to guilt them into saying yes. Sadly, it didn’t pan out. We’ll keep trying, of course.
This recess week was … pretty busy for a recess week. House Republicans are all but certain to demote Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump after January 6, from her leadership position next week. This might sound familiar—because it is. The conference just debated this and voted overwhelmingly to keep Cheney in the role of conference chair three months ago. But her refusal since then to quietly accept Trump’s ongoing lies about the 2020 election seems to be simply too much for her colleagues to bear.
Republicans to Replace Cheney With Stefanik
Republican lawmakers are set to purge Rep. Liz Cheney from her role as the third-ranking Republican in the House, and they’ve already found the perfect replacement to represent the current GOP conference.
The party has largely coalesced around New York Rep. Elise Stefanik to fill the job of conference chair, which handles much of the party’s messaging. Stefanik has the backing of the other House GOP leaders, but more importantly in the eyes of her colleagues, she also has Trump’s support. Trump released a statement Wednesday slamming Cheney and endorsing Stefanik as “a far superior choice.”
Cheney’s crime doesn’t have to do with any question of policy or substance beyond this: She is not willing to go along with Trump’s lies that the election was stolen from him. Even though Cheney is correct on that front, her message is at odds with a majority of the conference, who would rather placate Trump in order to keep him involved in future campaigns—and continue fundraising off of his most ardent supporters.
Stefanik, in contrast to Cheney, backed Republican efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. She voted for the GOP objection to Pennsylvania’s Electoral College results after Trump supporters attacked the Capitol on January 6. And in a floor speech, she amplified baseless conspiracies about the election, alleging widespread fraud in Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin. At one point she falsely claimed that “more than 140,000 votes came from underage, deceased, and otherwise unauthorized voters in Fulton County alone.” That would be more than 25 percent of the votes cast in Fulton County.
"The Georgia Secretary of State's office knows the age of everyone who voted because they had to be registered in order to vote, and there were no underage voters," Ari Schaffer, spokesman for Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, said in a statement to CNN this week. "Across the state, we found only 2 votes credited to dead voters. The suggestion that one fourth of all ballots cast in Fulton County in November were illegal is ludicrous."
Stefanik also signed onto the House GOP amicus brief for the state of Texas’s lawsuit seeking to throw out millions of votes and overturn Joe Biden’s election victory.
In an interview with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon on Thursday, Stefanik continued to raise questions about the 2020 presidential election and threw her approval behind the Republican-led Maricopa County recount, which now includes an investigation into whether there are bamboo fibers in the ballots after unfounded claims that 40,000 ballots were flown in from Asia to help stuff ballot boxes. (Yes, we’re serious.)
In the interview, Stefanik also outlined how she will approach the GOP conference chair position if elected—presenting a vision starkly different than Cheney’s. “My vision is to run with support from the president and his coalition of voters, which was the highest number of votes ever won by a Republican nominee in 2020,” she said, referring to Trump.
“This is also about being one team,” she added. “And I’m committed to being a voice and sending a clear message that we are one team, and that means working with the president and working with all of our excellent Republican members of Congress.” (To be clear, her use of “the president” in this instance is again referring to Trump.)
The New York Republican was once known primarily for her more moderate policy views and her efforts to encourage more GOP women to run for office. But she rose to MAGA stardom during Trump’s first impeachment inquiry, when she emerged as one of his most outspoken defenders. Her seat on the House intelligence panel gave her a high-profile role during the hearings, setting up clashes with committee chair Adam Schiff. The spotlight also enabled her to raise millions of dollars from Trump fans who were following the proceedings.
Stefanik has continued to build out her fundraising apparatus, leaning into online outreach. She raised $13.3 million in the 2020 cycle, much of which came from small donors outside of her home state. She was recruitment chair for House Republicans in 2018 and financed female Republican candidates in the 2020 election through her political action committee. The committee, E-PAC, directed $435,000 to Republican women in the last election cycle, including some who flipped House seats for the GOP. (Sidenote: Stefanik’s PAC gave $10,000 to Cheney in the 2020 cycle, per Federal Election Commission disclosures.)
Stefanik, 36, was formerly a White House policy adviser in George W. Bush’s administration. She represents New York’s rural 21st Congressional District, which she won by more than 22 points when she was first elected in 2014. She held the record as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress for several years, until Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won her race in 2018 at the age of 29.
Stefanik’s district supported former President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election but backed Trump by double digits in 2016 and 2020. She touts a more bipartisan record than many of her colleagues, emphasizing one of the most meaningful developments within the Trump-era GOP: Loyalty to the party is now measured in personal devotion to Trump rather than alignment with Republican policies.
Stefanik voted with Trump less than 70 percent of the time in 2019 and 2020, according to CQ Vote Watch, giving her the seventh lowest score among Republicans.
She voted against the 2017 Republican tax bill, taking issue with its cap on the state and local tax deduction. She was also one of three Republicans to vote alongside Democrats on legislation to stop Trump’s planned withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, and she condemned Trump’s early travel ban on seven primarily Muslim countries. In 2019, she was one of only 13 House Republicans to vote for legislation to block Trump’s emergency declaration to fund construction of a wall at the U.S-Mexico border.
Conservative activists have pushed back on Stefanik as the potential conference chair.
“Elise Stefanik is NOT a good spokesperson for the House Republican Conference,” the conservative group Club for Growth wrote on Twitter. The group ranks Stefanik at 197 in its scoring system for members of Congress. “She is a liberal with a 35% CFGF lifetime rating, 4th worst in the House GOP. House Republicans should find a conservative to lead messaging and win back the House Majority,” the group said.
Another influential conservative group, FreedomWorks, hit Stefanik for her voting record:
National Review News Wire @NRWireScalise Backs Stefanik for House GOP Conference Chair | https://t.co/stOZkjtHYN https://t.co/uyoN62fSxT
While some members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus might oppose Stefanik for those reasons, a source familiar with the group’s dynamics told The Dispatch, others see her as an ally despite her policy differences. Either way, it won’t make much of a difference. She’ll have the votes to succeed, absent some drastic change in the conference’s dynamics. Trump’s endorsement only bolsters her standing. Notably, one of the Freedom Caucus’s founding members, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, will support her.
“She would do a fine job,” Jordan said on Fox News this week. “That’s going to be the call of the conference, but I think she would do a fine job.”
Cheney has no plans to step down before the conference holds a full vote on the matter, according to a source with knowledge of her thinking. House Republicans are next scheduled to meet on Wednesday, May 12. Under conference rules, GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy can allow a simple majority vote on a resolution seeking Cheney’s removal from leadership. With opposition from both Trump and McCarthy this time, it’s all but certain Cheney will lose the vote.
Stefanik is expected to be elected to replace Cheney quickly, potentially in the same meeting.
If You Missed It
We’ve followed the Cheney story closely this week. We think it’s not just an insidery story about congressional dynamics, but also something that points to the future of the Republican Party and what the next four years might look like. Steve wrote a piece about GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy’s focus on winning the speaker’s gavel and his hypocrisy in shunning Cheney. It’s definitely worth reading if you haven’t gotten to it yet. “McCarthy knows that Trump is lying about the election,” Steve wrote. “He knows that Cheney is telling the truth. And he’s choosing Trump anyway.”
Jonah also wrote about the situation in Wednesday’s G-File, and we covered it in The Morning Dispatch, available here. We’ll have some of our reporters at the Capitol talking to members and staking out the GOP conference meeting next week, too.
It’s also worth reading Cheney’s Washington Post op-ed.
“Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work—confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this,” she wrote. “The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”
“The question before us now is whether we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have,” she added.