Stefanik voted in as House GOP’s new No. 3 leader

Elise Stefanik cruised to victory in a Friday vote to replace Liz Cheney as House Republicans' third-ranked leader, capping off a tumultuous month in the GOP conference sparked by its bitter divisions over Donald Trump.

Stefanik won in a 134-46 secret-ballot vote, defeating her sole challenger Rep. Chip Roy of Texas — an unsurprising outcome after she aggressively campaigned for the No. 3 spot, scooping up endorsements from top party leaders and Trump.

The 36-year-old New Yorker, known as a moderate turned Trump ally who's used her fundraising skills to help elect a new class of GOP women, is now the highest-ranking woman in elected Republican leadership. Stefanik’s star has steadily risen in the party, and her new role as conference chair could give her an even greater platform for her future ambitions.

After the vote concluded, Stefanik walked to speak to reporters with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other members of the leadership team by her side. Stefanik thanked Trump for his support and called him a “critical part of our Republican team” — a noted departure from her predecessor, Cheney (R-Wyo.), whose readiness to challenge the former president ultimately led to her demise.

In Stefanik, it is clear that McCarthy is getting a deputy who shares his vision on Trump and his role in the party, a critical litmus test in today’s GOP.

“I support President Trump ... he is an important voice in our Republican party and we look forward to working with him,” Stefanik said. “Republican voters are unified in their support and their desire to work with President Trump, and we are unified as Republicans.”

Stefanik, however, treaded carefully when she was pressed by reporters on whether there is room in the party for Trump critics like Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.).

"Liz Cheney is part of this Republican conference. Adam Kinzinger is part of this Republican conference,” Stefanik said. But she added: “We're unified in working with President Trump."

McCarthy and his top deputies, who have had a tense working relationship with Cheney since her vote to impeach Trump, vowed to have unity in their leadership ranks. They then quickly launched into an attack against the Biden administration and the Democratic “socialist” agenda — the exact type of messaging that Republicans have claimed Cheney was preventing them from being able to focus on.

“We're going to work on those problems every single day in an even more united way,” said Minority Whip Steve Scalise. “That's why we're proud that Elise got elected today.”

Stefanik’s victory is the culmination of a fast-paced effort by GOP leaders to remove Cheney, the party's top woman leader and frequent Trump critic, from the conference chairmanship and install a Trump loyalist in her place.

A handful of other Republicans interested in the position were waved off as the former president, McCarthy and other GOP leaders threw their support behind Stefanik — even before Cheney was voted out of the position.

Roy, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, launched an 11th-hour bid for the race after protesting the speed of the Cheney replacement vote and Stefanik’s moderate record. But ahead of a candidate forum on Thursday, where he and Stefanik sought to make their case to colleagues why they should be conference chair, Roy faced a setback as Trump called for the former top aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to face a primary challenger.

In order to assuage conservative concerns about her voting record, Stefanik promised to not buck the party on big issues and put her personal ideology aside. She also told colleagues she will only serve in the role until 2022. After that, she's said she intends to seek the top spot on the House Education and Labor Committee.

She also deployed the power of dessert, sending her colleagues cupcakes imprinted with her PAC's logo before the vote.

But Stefanik may still have some work to do in winning over the right flank. When Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) formally nominated Roy for the No. 3 position, he complained about her voting record and compared it to that of the House's liberal “Squad”, which elicited some groans, according to sources in the room.

And after the vote, freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), who also nominated Roy, made a similar comparison.

“We don’t need the No. 3 in our party voting alongside ‘The Squad’ on most of the prominent issues,” Boebert told POLITICO, referring to a Democratic group that includes New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“I hope that she stays true to the promises she made while she was campaigning to win this seat," Boebert added of Stefanik.

For the most part, though, Republicans leaving Friday’s meeting expressed relief that the Cheney saga — which had consumed their conference and the media for weeks — was finally over, allowing them to finally turn the page on their internal divisions.

“Now that the conference has made its decision, it’s time for us to move forward with a vision and a plan to fight for the forgotten men and women of this country, their way of life, and the principles — built upon the bedrock of freedom — that have made it great,” Roy said in a statement.

Under House GOP rules, elected members of leadership can only serve on one standing committee, meaning Stefanik will have to forfeit one of her assignments unless she gets a waiver. She currently serves on the House Education and Labor Committee and House Armed Services Committee. (She also sits on the high-profile House Intelligence Committee, which is a select committee where members are appointed by leadership.)

Stefanik was formally nominated by Rep. John Katko of New York, a moderate in her state delegation who voted to impeach Trump; freshman Rep. Ashley Hinson of Iowa, whose election last fall was endorsed by Stefanik’s PAC; and Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania.

A Harvard graduate, Stefanik came up in politics through the establishment — as a White House staffer for former President George W. Bush and then as a staffer on former Speaker Paul Ryan’s vice presidential campaign. When she was elected to the House in 2014, she was the youngest woman ever to hold a seat in Congress.

As her district in upstate New York grew more red, Stefanik aligned herself closely with Trump, earning a reputation as a top Trump defender during the former president's first impeachment. During her time in the House, Stefanik has served a stint as recruitment chair for the National Republican Congressional Committee and formed her own PAC dedicated to electing more women. She also serves as a member of the whip team.

“Her leadership inspired dozens of women to step up and run — many of those women are sitting in this room today. Elise cares about this conference. She cares about the future of this party,” Hinson said in her nominating speech, according to a source in the room.

Cheney was not seen at Friday’s meeting, according to multiple sources in the room.

CLARIFICATION: Elected members of House GOP leadership can only serve on one standing committee. An earlier version of this story failed to note that designation clearly.
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A defiant Cheney tears into Trump, GOP: ‘We must speak the truth’

On the eve of being ousted as House GOP conference chair, a defiant Rep. Liz Cheney called Donald Trump a “threat we have never seen before” and said she refuses to peddle his lies that the election was stolen, nor should her GOP colleagues.

In what will likely be her final public stand as the No. 3 in GOP leadership, the Wyoming Republican — wearing a pin that is a replica of George Washington’s battle flag — continued to blame Trump for inciting the deadly Jan. 6 riots, raised concerns about the path her party is heading, and warned that democracy and freedom are at stake. All are comments that have contributed to her imminent loss of power.

"Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar,” Cheney said in a floor speech Tuesday evening. “I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy."

"We must speak the truth," she added. "Our election was not stolen, and America has not failed."

Cheney also admonished Trump for provoking “a violent attack on this Capitol in an effort to steal the election” and warned that “he risks inciting further violence” by continuing to push his baseless claims about voter fraud, which many of her Republican colleagues have echoed.

“Our freedom only survives if we protect it,” she said.

Cheney’s short but pointed floor speech came hours before members of the House GOP conference are expected to flock to a Wednesday meeting. At that point, her fellow Republicans will decide her fate in leadership, which many members say is all but a foregone conclusion: Cheney, the highest ranking woman in the House, will be ejected from leadership Wednesday morning, and Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York will be named her successor in the days ahead.

Cheney seems ready to accept the outcome; she has not sought to whip members to vote to protect her position. And rather than going quietly, Cheney has continued to sing her message publicly, often putting her in direct opposition with statements that GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has made.

The final straw came when Cheney split with McCarthy and other Republicans during the annual GOP policy conference late last month, which sparked the realization among members of the conference that the situation was untenable.

The talk of her ouster began to snowball over the course of a week. This time, her list of critics grew from members across the party’s spectrum, with moderates, GOP leaders, and longtime Cheney allies joining longtime Cheney critics in agreeing that it is time to remove her as conference chair.

They argue that it is not about her impeachment vote, but because her role is to message on behalf of the conference — particularly as they look to win back control of the House in 2022 — and her individual views are distracting their message of hitting the Biden administration and Democrats’ “radical socialist agenda.” Democrats, meanwhile, have latched onto the message that the party is seeking to silence Cheney because she is anti-Trump, optics of which have reverberated beyond the Capitol.

Cheney survived an attempted ouster in February after ultra-conservative members sought to remove her over her vote to impeach Trump on Jan. 6, prevailing in a 145-61 secret ballot vote. That is not expected to be the case Wednesday, though it is not clear if the vote will be by voice vote or a recorded secret ballot.

During her floor speech Tuesday evening, Cheney issued the warning that the rest of the world is watching.

“Attacks against our democratic process and the rule of law empower our adversaries and feed Communist propaganda that American democracy is a failure,” Cheney said.

In a brief moment of levity, Cheney noted that preceding GOP speakers had, ironically, just been giving speeches complaining about cancel culture.

“I have some thoughts about that,” Cheney said. “But tonight I rise to discuss freedom and our constitutional duty to protect it.”

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The Cheney-McCarthy rift busts open

Liz Cheney and Kevin McCarthy are making two very different bets on Donald Trump — and the one who guesses right may find themselves with a future leading the GOP.

The decision by Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, to split with the minority leader and embrace Trump’s impeachment marks the most dramatic rift in the upper rungs of GOP leadership since Trump took office. It caps a years-long tussle between the party leaders over how closely the GOP should align itself with Trump and where the party should go after he leaves office.

And the impeachment divide is only going to fuel speculation in the Capitol and beyond about whether Cheney — who passed on a Senate bid to seek her fortunes in the House — will try to take on McCarthy one day. McCarthy, who built his political brand around his ties to Trump and impressive fundraising, is sure to face questions about whether he can lead his party back to the majority after he stood by Trump’s efforts to overturn the election and a bloody insurrection followed.

McCarthy, who believes impeachment is bad for the country and will create further division, has taken a behind-the-scenes approach to the Capitol attack, privately talking with GOP members and the president.

Cheney, meanwhile, has taken a different path, delivering a public and forthright response to the Capitol riots, which could be a defining moment in any future race for speaker or minority leader.

But Cheney has made clear her decision to back impeachment was not a political one. And in fact, it may hurt her if the GOP doesn’t fully exorcise Trump from its party; the president still maintains fierce support among the conservative grassroots. She is already facing several calls in the House GOP to step aside from her leadership post.

Yet Cheney has privately told colleagues that she wanted to be on the right side of history, according to sources, and has framed it as a “vote of conscience.”

On the eve of the impeachment vote in the House, Cheney became the highest-ranking Republican to publicly support removing Trump from office for inciting a violent mob to attack the Capitol. Three other Republicans, Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Fred Upton of Michigan and John Katko of New York, have also thrown their weight behind impeachment so far. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also been telling associates that he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses, POLITICO has confirmed.

In a three-paragraph statement, Cheney didn’t hold back: “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Cheney also put the responsibility of the attack on the Capitol squarely on Trump, stating that he “summoned” the mob and “lit the flame of this attack” — and that without him, the bloody riot would’ve never happened.

“Everything that followed was his doing,” Cheney continued. “The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not.”

But while Cheney’s impeachment stance might earn her plaudits in some corners of the conference, not everyone was pleased: House Freedom Caucus Chair Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), one of the ringleaders of the challenge to President-elect Joe Biden’s win, called on Cheney to resign from her leadership post.

“She should not be serving this conference,” Biggs told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday. “That’s it.” The Freedom Caucus once cost McCarthy a shot at the speakership, and the conservative hard-liners still hold sway in the House GOP.

Signs of Cheney’s likely impeachment vote were popping up all over the place in the days preceding her announcement. In the immediate aftermath of the Capitol siege, she placed the blame on Trump’s shoulders: “There is no question that the president formed the mob, the president incited the mob, the president addressed the mob. He lit the flame,” she said.

Cheney also was having discussions with Democrats while they were hunkered down in a safe room amid the insurrection, according to several lawmakers. And other sources said she had been heavily weighing impeachment in recent days.

Then, in a GOP conference call on Monday, the first conference-wide meeting since the riots took place, Cheney did not tip her hand how she intended to vote, but she urged her colleagues to “vote your conscience” and she emphasized that this was not a political vote.

It’s unclear how many Republicans will follow Cheney’s path, but more are expected to follow suit, in a potential sign of her growing influence in the party. Her stance also gives wary Republicans major political cover.

“Good for her for honoring her oath of office,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Tuesday.

McCarthy, meanwhile, has wrestled with his response to the attack. While he remains opposed to impeachment, an aide confirmed to POLITICO that McCarthy is open to the less severe option of censure. The idea has gained traction within the GOP conference, but Democrats argue it doesn't go far enough in condemning Trump for his role in Wednesday’s deadly events and it won’t get a vote on the floor.

In another sign that McCarthy is still trying to figure out his next steps, he has also been asking Republicans whether he should ask Trump to resign, according to one GOP member. That detail was first reported by The New York Times.

Notably, sources say McCarthy has not been whipping members on how they will vote on impeachment; doing so would surely backfire as Republicans grapple with how to respond to the crisis.

But the California Republican has become more critical of Trump, particularly as rage and frustration swells in the House GOP ranks. McCarthy and his top deputy, Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), have faced backlash from inside the conference over how they handled the siege and for continuing to object to the certification of Biden’s Electoral College win, even after the deadly riots. Scalise is also opposed to impeachment.

While McCarthy was quick to condemn the violence and begged Trump to put out a stronger statement telling the rioters to stand down, the GOP leader waited days before privately blaming Trump in a conference call, saying that the president bears some of the responsibility for inciting riots that put lawmakers’ lives in danger.

McCarthy also told colleagues on Monday night that he has asked Trump to offer congratulations to Biden, the first time he has encouraged the outgoing president, to extend an olive branch to the incoming administration.

McCarthy had previously made the calculated call to go all-in on Trump, with some Republicans saying he took the 2020 gain in House seats as a sign that keeping the party attached to Trump was their way to win back the House in 2022.

But as some Republicans have noted, that approach meant the House GOP was inextricably tied to Trump — even when he throws the country into chaos.

Adding to McCarthy’s woes, a growing number of corporate donors and business groups are paring back their political donations to members who voted against certification, putting one of McCarthy's other strengths — fundraising — in jeopardy.

Cheney, meanwhile, has repeatedly challenged Trump. She’s separated herself from other GOP leaders who often stayed silent with their criticism and has sometimes publicly pushed back on the president’s behavior.

At one point last year, it appeared as though Cheney’s political potential was scorched after a group of House Freedom Caucus members piled onto her in July for her criticisms of the president, her support of Anthony Fauci and her backing of a primary opponent challenging Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).

Some conservatives even discussed recruiting someone to challenge her for conference chair, but it never came to fruition; Cheney was unanimously selected to serve another term in leadership.

McCarthy’s stance has also put him directly at odds with McConnell, his GOP counterpart in the Capitol.

McConnell has been privately relaying that he is happy Democrats are moving forward with plans to remove the unpredictable president from office because the Senate leader believes this will help cleanse the GOP of Trump.

McCarthy and McConnell have also handled the election objections entirely differently. While McConnell was actively urging Republicans in the Senate not to challenge the certification of Biden’s 2020 win, McCarthy largely remained quiet before he joined the majority of House Republicans in objecting to the Electoral College votes. In fact, POLITICO also reported that even prior to the Wednesday vote, McCarthy had counseled GOP freshmen about which electoral challenges to support.

In contrast to McConnell, who described his vote to certify as “the most important vote” he has ever cast, McCarthy chose to push ahead with his objection hours after the violence unraveled around the Capitol complex, which incensed many of his Republican colleagues.

When Trump’s second impeachment trial begins, the Senate will have the chance to bar Trump from ever holding public office again. Some Republicans may see an opportunity.

“Mitch McConnell was looking at the party long term. And [he and Cheney] answered the call,” said one GOP lawmaker. “And I think a lot of members are concerned that both McCarthy and Scalise did not.”

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