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.