CAPITAL REGION – North Country U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, seen for years as a rising star in national Republican politics, is gaining momentum in a bid to replace Rep. Liz Cheney as the House Republican conference leader.
On Wednesday, former President Donald J. Trump, who remains the most powerful figure within the Republican Party, publicly endorsed Stefanik for the post. He simultaneously attacked Cheney, who in January voted for Trump’s impeachment for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol rioters and has disparaged his voter fraud claims.
“Liz Cheney is a warmongering fool who has no business in Republican Party Leadership,” Trump wrote in a press statement. “We want leaders who believe in the Make America Great Again movement, and prioritize the values of America First. Elise Stefanik is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement for GOP Conference Chair. Elise is a tough and smart communicator!”
Stefanik, R-Saratoga, who represents the 21st Congressional District, has been loyal to Trump and voted against accepting the 2020 electoral college results in which President Joe Biden defeated Trump. It has been widely reported she is seeking the conference chair post, and a source close to the congresswoman who asked not to be named confirmed her interest.
Stefanik retweeted the Trump endorsement from her personal Twitter account, as she has other statements of support. “Thank you President Trump for your 100% support for House GOP Conference Chair. We are unified and focused on FIRING PELOSI & WINNING in 2022!,” she tweeted separately.
Various media outlets have reported over the last two days that Stefanik is pursuing the post and that Cheney — a Wyoming congresswoman and the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney — is not fighting to keep it. The conference chair is the third-ranking position in the House caucus, behind the minority leader and minority whip.
Lauren Fine, a spokesperson for House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., told Fox News on Wednesday that “House Republicans need to be solely focused on taking back the House in 2022 … and Elise Stefanik is strongly committed to doing that, which is why Whip Scalise has pledged to support her for conference chair.”
The House Republican Conference chairperson presides over conference meetings, which are composed of all members of the Republican Party. Cheney was elected to the post by her House GOP colleagues in early 2019, and has held the post since then.
Cheney on Wednesday published an op-ed piece in the Washington Post warning the party against following Trump. “We Republicans need to stand for genuinely conservative principles, and steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality,” she wrote.
Despite having strongly conservative political views, Cheney fell into disfavor with Trump and many other Republicans after she was one of only 10 House Republicans to vote in favor of Trump’s second impeachment. More recently, she has also been criticized for her fist-bump greeting to Biden last Wednesday night as he entered the House chamber to deliver his address to Congress.
Also on Wednesday, state Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy and Conservative Party Chairman Gerald Kassar issued statements endorsing Stefanik for the leadership post.
“There is no one better prepared to serve as House Republican Conference Chair than @EliseStefanik. She is the leader that we need to help grow our ranks, communicate our message, deliver Republican victories and fire Nancy Pelosi in 2022,” Langworthy wrote on Twitter.
The last Republican conference leader from New York state was Buffalo’s Jack Kemp in the 1980s.
Stefanik, 36, is in her fourth term in Congress, representing a politically conservative district that stretches from Fulton and Saratoga counties to the Canadian border. At the time she was elected in 2014, she was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
In recent months, Stefanik has become a frequent guest on conservative national news programs, and she has been a successful fundraiser both for herself –– she collected $1.2 million for her campaign in the first quarter of this year – and through her political action committee that supports conservative women running for office.
Those around her this spring at least floated the idea she might run for governor next year against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, though at this point another New York congressman, Lee Zeldin of Long Island, has moved aggressively and apparently locked up the local support to get the nomination.
Stefanik caught the attention of Trump with her sharp and focused questioning of House Intelligence Committee witnesses during the investigation that led to Trump’s first impeachment in 2019. Trump was impeached for allegedly soliciting Ukranian interference in the 2020 presidential election. While no Republicans supported that impeachment, Stefanik was among Trump’s prominent defenders and was subsequently invited to the White House on several occasions.
While those who support Trump appear to be supporting Stefanik, Democrats were defending Cheney — at least for having stood up to Trump in the impeachment vote and the election result — and attacking Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. McCarthy is openly calling for Cheney’s removal but hasn’t endorsed a successor.
“Punishing Members who Tell the Truth: McCarthy is actively seeking to oust Liz Cheney from leadership for telling the truth about the 2020 election and the violence on January 6th,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a news release. “Rewarding Members who Spread the Big Lie: McCarthy is rewarding Elise Stefanik for perpetuating the Big Lie by supporting her ascension to Conference Chair as a means of ousting Cheney.”
The Lincoln Project, made up of former Republicans who oppose Trump, retweeted a video made in January that called Stefanik “just another sad Trump apologist.”
“No single person better represents the decay of the GOP under Donald Trump than @EliseStefanik. It’s fitting that she is about to become the Chair of the House Republican Caucus,” the Lincoln Project tweeted.
Meanwhile, in the 20th Congressional District, the National Republican Congressional Conference announced it has added incumbent Rep. Paul D. Tonko to its list of incumbent Democrats being targeted for 2022 when the Republicans hope to take back control of the House.
The only announced Republican in that race is Liz Joy of Glenville, the same candidate Tonko defeated in 2020. Redistricting based on results of 2020 will add some uncertainty to that race, but the district currently has a heavily Democratic voter enrollment.
“People across the nation are rejecting the leftward lurch of Tonko and the Democrats as they push for dangerous policies like defunding the police and try to fundamentally change what makes America great,” Joy said in a statement. “2022 will be a very good year for Republicans and the people of the 20th District.”
Tonko’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.