By ALAN FRAM and MARY CLARE JALONICK
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — House Republicans elevated North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik to a leadership post Friday, highlighting how the party whose lodestar has long been conservative policies increasingly views allegiance to Donald Trump as its indispensable key to electoral success.
Stefanik, a Trump stalwart who represents New York’s 21st Congressional District, was elected to the No. 3 leadership job that until this week belonged to Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. Republicans tossed Cheney from that post for continually calling out former President Trump for helping spur the violent Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection and relentlessly pushing his false claims that voting fraud caused his November reelection defeat.
Local officials and judges from both parties around the country have declared there is no evidence Trump was cheated out of a win.
Stefanik easily defeated Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, 134-46 in a secret ballot that gave GOP lawmakers a distinct choice about where to steer the party. Stefanik has a moderate voting record but strong backing from Trump and other party leaders, including some conservatives, while Roy is in the hard-right House Freedom Caucus and was actively opposed by the former president.
In remarks to reporters after her victory, Stefanik underscored how the twice-impeached Trump’s clout within the GOP remains potent, a rarity for a defeated former president. Polling shows strong Trump loyalty among Republican voters, giving party leaders little incentive to ostracize him.
“Voters determine the leader of the Republican Party, and President Trump is the leader that they look to,” said Stefanik, 36, who was first elected in 2014. She added, “He is an important voice in the Republican Party and we look forward to working with him.”
Stefanik, a Capital Region native, represents an enormous district that stretches across northern New York, from Fulton and Saratoga counties to the Canadian border — a conservative-oriented district where nearly all local elected officials are Republicans. Stefanik lives in the town of Saratoga.
New York Democrats attacked her for not rejecting Trump’s election fraud assertions.
“Opportunism and blind ambition have led her to turn her back on the Constitution and the principles upon which this nation was founded,” state Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs said in a statement.
Tedra Cobb of St. Lawrence County, Stefanik’s unsuccessful Democratic opponent in 2018 and 2020, has founded a political action committee, Backroads PAC, to support rural Democrats. She said Stefanik’s elevation leaves her concerned about what would happen if Republicans take control of the House in 2022.
“If Republicans are the House majority in 2024, and a Democrat wins the presidency, Republicans could refuse to certify the results and select the president themselves,” Cobb wrote in a fundraising email on Friday.
While the GOP defines itself as conservative, Stefanik’s win provided one measure of the diminished role ideology now plays for Republicans.
Her lifetime voting score from the conservative Heritage Action for America is 48, one of the most moderate marks of all House Republicans. That compares to Cheney’s 80 and Roy’s 96.
The conservative Club for Growth, which backed Roy, gives Stefanik a lifetime mark of 35. That is well below Cheney’s 65 and Roy’s 100, and even beneath Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a member of the “squad” of young progressive House Democrats, who scored 38.
“I would support Stefanik to be the most likely Republican to join the Squad but not Republican Conference Chair,” tweeted Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., who nominated Roy Friday.
“Now, to have credibility in the Republican Party, you have to align yourself with Donald Trump. Everything else is secondary,” said former Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., a Trump critic. He called that a short-term “survival strategy,” saying Trump’s appeal nationally is limited and will fade.
Republicans hope Stefanik will help shift attention from their acrimonious purge of the defiant Cheney, and toward their drive to win House control in the 2022 elections. A Trump loyalist who has stood by some of his unfounded claims about widespread election cheating, Stefanik’s elevation gives the GOP a fresh spokesperson who is one of the party’s relative handful of women in Congress.
“We are unified working as one team,” she said.
Yet GOP schisms are unlikely to vanish quickly. Roy’s candidacy signaled that hard-right conservatives will battle for influence, and tensions remain raw over Cheney’s rancorous ouster.
Three people familiar with Friday’s closed-door GOP meeting said Cheney was not seen. Her office did not reply to questions about her attendance.
She has said she’ll stay in Congress and use her prominence — as a GOP establishment pillar and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney — to try to pry her party from Trump and to work against him if he attempts a White House return in 2024.
“We have to get people to vote for us, and we can’t do that if we are a party that’s based on a foundation of lies,” she said Thursday on Fox News’ “Special Report.”
Cheney was among 10 House Republicans who voted in January for Trump’s second impeachment for inciting his supporters’ Capitol attack.
Stefanik has told colleagues she’ll serve in leadership only through next year, then try taking the top GOP spot on the influential House Education and Labor Committee. Her plans were described last week by a Republican lawmaker and an aide who discussed them only on condition of anonymity.
Besides support from Trump, Stefanik was backed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and two of the chamber’s most influential conservatives: No. 2 leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.
In the past four presidential elections, Stefanik’s rural district backed Barack Obama twice but then Trump twice. She was a Trump critic during his 2016 campaign, calling his videotaped comments on sexually assaulting women “just wrong” and at times avoiding stating his name.
She sprang to Trump’s attention by defending him in 2019 during his first impeachment over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to produce political dirt on Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential contender at the time.
She’s remained a Trump booster. Hours after the Capitol attack, she voted against formally approving Pennsylvania’s state-certified electoral votes for Biden.
Trump issued a statement Friday congratulating Stefanik, saying, “The House GOP is united and the Make America Great Again movement is Strong!”
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