Some Irked by Stefanik's Rise 05/08 07:32
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Conservatives in and out of Congress are expressing
opposition to Rep. Elise Stefanik 's rise toward House Republicans' No. 3
leadership job, grumbling that's unlikely to derail her but serves notice that
the right wing is battling again to affect the party's future.
House Republicans plan to meet privately next week, probably Wednesday, and
seem certain to oust Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., from that top post. House
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., seems likely to postpone a vote on
replacing Cheney until sometime later, according to two House GOP aides who
discussed the delay on condition of anonymity, giving restive conservatives a
chance to coalesce behind an alternative.
It's unlikely any challenger would defeat Stefanik, who has the backing of
former President Donald Trump, McCarthy and No. 2 House GOP leader Steve
Scalise of Louisiana. That triumvirate -- especially the former president,
whose grip on the party seems as firm as ever -- virtually assures victory for
Stefanik, 36, a onetime Trump critic who evolved into his strident ally.
But with the hard right distrustful of Stefanik, owner of one of the House
GOP's most moderate voting records, conservatives say forcing her to face a
challenge would signal she's not universally accepted and will have to contend
with them moving forward.
"We must not rush into a de-facto coronation of any handpicked replacement
whose voting record does not reflect the views of the conference," first-term
conservative Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., said in a statement. "We must select someone
who will wholeheartedly support the conservative membership."
Good said Republicans should be allowed to "work through the process" of
replacing Cheney. The conservative Club for Growth, wary of Stefanik's past
opposition to tax cuts and easing environmental regulations, is also pushing
for time so a Stefanik rival can emerge, a view Republicans say is widely
shared among conservatives.
The hard-right House Freedom Caucus has taken no public position on
Stefanik. But its members, said to number around 40, are known to be
uncomfortable with her.
As she works to secure her election, Stefanik has told colleagues she'd
serve as No. 3 leader only through the 2022 election year, said a GOP lawmaker
and an aide speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal
conversations. She's said she'd take the top GOP slot on the House Education
and Labor Committee the following year. The scenario was first reported by
Delaying the Stefanik vote could also help McCarthy, who hopes to be elected
speaker should Republicans win House control in the 2022 elections. There's no
need for him to risk support from conservatives, long skeptical of him, by
denying them a chance to advance a Stefanik challenger.
The dustup is underscoring the disconnect that sometimes exists between
Trump and the party's ideological right wing. It also poses a test of
conservatives' clout when they don't have the former president behind them -- a
battle they seem likely to lose this time.
Conservatives have tussled for years for influence within the GOP. They've
won some fights, like forcing the early retirement of Speaker John Boehner,
R-Ohio, but lost many others.
"Leadership elections are always an opportunity for discussions about the
future" of House Republicans, said Michael Steel, who was a top aide to Boehner
and other leading GOP figures.
Stefanik, whose office declined to comment for this article, does have some
significant conservative credentials. These include past support from the
National Rifle Association, endorsements from the Susan B. Anthony List, an
anti-abortion group, and recent praise from Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a
But she's consistently gotten moderate scores for her voting record: a
lifetime 48% from Heritage Action for America and 35% from Club for Growth, a
pair of conservative organizations, among the lowest grades for House
She voted with Trump 78% of the time when he was president, according to
votes tracked by the website fivethirtyeight.com, again one of the lowest marks
in the House GOP. That included voting to oppose Trump's signature 2017 tax
cuts, his unilateral use of money to build the southern border wall and his
withdrawal of troops from Syria.
Stefanik has "a lot of work to do" to win over the GOP's more conservative
activists, said Adam Brandon, president of the conservative FreedomWorks.
Stefanik criticized Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign, including
calling his remarks in a 2005 video about sexually assaulting women "offensive"
and "just wrong." She said his crude description of African countries in 2018
was "contrary to our American ideals."
In 2019, she became a highly visible foe of Trump's first impeachment over
his attempts to pressure Ukraine to produce political dirt about Joe Biden, who
was then a presidential candidate.
She has since embraced many of Trump's evidence-free claims about 2020
election fraud. She declared this week that states unconstitutionally changed
their election laws and said she supports an audit of Arizona votes that
conservatives are using to bolster suspicions about the results.
Stefanik's northern New York district backed Barack Obama in the 2008 and
2012 presidential election, then Trump in 2016 and 2020.
"You can't really believe whether she is or isn't" a Trump supporter, the
Club for Growth's McIntosh said. "I'd warn him that, in a couple of years, she
won't be for you."
Cheney, on the other hand, was rated 80% by Heritage Action and 65% by Club
for Growth, while voting 93% of the time with Trump.
Cheney is being deposed after voting to impeach Trump for encouraging
supporters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 and for energetically contesting
his false claims that his 2020 election defeat to Biden was fraudulent.
Some Republicans have said that as a party leader, she should have stifled
her criticisms of Trump, which they fear are distracting from efforts to
recapture the House. Cheney has cast her position as defending the Constitution.