So who is the woman replacing Liz Cheney as the No. 3-ranked Republican in the House?
Enter New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, 36, who was elected as the House GOP conference chair on Friday morning, two days after House Republicans voted to remove Cheney from her leadership position in the chamber on Wednesday.
Cheney had been in the crosshairs of GOP House leaders Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Steve Scalise (R-La.) for months, after repeatedly challenging former President Donald Trump’s claims that voting fraud cost him the 2020 election. (In fact, President Joe Biden won the election by more than 7 million votes — and by 306 to 232 Electoral College votes.) Cheney (R-Wy.) also voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and has said that Republicans “can’t whitewash what happened on Jan. 6 or perpetuate Trump’s big lie.”
Her remarks have rubbed many Republicans the wrong way at a time when GOP leaders are anxious to unify the party. “We need to make a change,” McCarthy wrote in a letter to Republican lawmakers on Monday.
So why did Stefanik — whose voting record is actually less conservative than Cheney’s, and who was once a Trump critic — rack up endorsements from McCarthy, Scalise and even Trump? Here’s what you need to know about Cheney’s replacement.
She’s been a part of the political establishment since she was a teen.
Stefanik was born and raised in Albany, N.Y., where her parents owned a plywood distributor. But she’s been a political junkie since an early age: A local 1998 newspaper article reported that she cut school at age 14 to attend a book signing by a Republican lawmaker, according to the Financial Times. She graduated from Harvard with a degree in government, and she co-wrote an op-ed as an undergrad with former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who is now a U.S. senator and Democrat. Stefanik later worked as a White House staffer in George W. Bush’s administration, as well as on Paul Ryan’s 2012 vice-presidential campaign.
Then she moved back to upstate New York in 2012, and took a job in sales at her parent’s plywood company for a couple of years. Upon running for Congress in 2014, she described herself as a small businesswoman from North Country, N.Y.
In 2014, she was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
Stefanik ran for office as a Republican in upstate New York’s 21st district in 2014. Democrats held that seat in the House for 22 years — until Stefanik broke that streak by winning her race at the age of 30, which also made her the youngest woman elected to Congress up to that point.
Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would later take the title as the youngest member of Congress in 2019, when she was elected to represent New York’s 14th district. And Republican Madison Cawthorn recently took the crown from AOC when he was elected to represent North Carolina’s 11th district at age 25, although Ocasio-Cortez remains the youngest woman in Congress.
She’s a powerful fundraiser who has helped a record number of Republican women get elected.
Stefanik has raised big bucks and used them to help a record number of Republican women get elected to the House. Getting more women into government has been a passion project of hers; she recruited more than 100 women to run for Congress in 2018, when she was the first woman to serve as the recruitment chair for the National Republican Congressional Committee. She created her E-PAC leadership platform in 2019 to boost the number of GOP women running for office. And the Republican fundraising platform WinRed places her among the top five Republican earners, as reported by Politico, where she raised and donated more than $1.4 million to women candidates. Indeed, the Republican party doubled its number of female representatives in the House from 15 to 30 in the 2020 election.
She’s actually more moderate than Cheney.
Cheney voted more in line with Trump than Stefanik did. Cheney voted with Trump 93% of the time, according to votes tracked by the website fivethirtyeight.com, while Stefanik voted with the former president 78% of the time while he was in office. What’s more, Stefanik was the co-chair of the Tuesday Group, a caucus of moderate Republican lawmakers committed to working with Democrats shortly after Trump’s election. And she voted against the former president’s 2017 tax-cut plan, and supported the Mueller investigation of Moscow’s influence on the 2020 election.
In fact, the conservative think tank FreedomWorks gave Stefanik’s voting record “a dismal 37% score” in a tweet last week. The post noted that if GOP leadership is “looking for a conservative to replace Liz Cheney, then we suggest taking a look at our congressional scorecard.” She also landed in the “moderate” column as far as the conservative groups Heritage Action for America and Club for Growth are concerned, which scored her 48% and 35%, respectively — among the lowest grades for House Republicans.
But she did a 180 during Trump’s first impeachment trial for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
She wasn’t a Trump fan at first — but now she’s one of his staunchest supporters.
During the 2016 election cycle that put Trump in office, Stefanik called out his “inappropriate, offensive comments” toward women on the “Access Hollywood” tape. She also criticized many of his policies: his travel ban was “rushed and overly broad,” for example, and “not who we are as a country.” She said that his plan to build a border wall with Mexico wasn’t realistic. She tweeted that the former president’s “s—hole countries” comment was “wrong and contrary to our American ideals,” and Trump’s move to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord was a “mistake.”
But then she came out swinging in defense of Trump during his first impeachment trial, leading to a Trump tweet at the time saying that “A new Republican star is born” and netting her more fundraising dollars. Since the 2020 election, she has supported false claims that victory was stolen from Trump, and she voted with 146 other House Republicans against certifying the election results for President Biden. Now Trump is endorsing her to take Cheney’s seat, writing on Monday that, “We need someone in Leadership who has experience flipping districts from Blue to Red as we approach the important 2022 midterms, and that’s Elise! She knows how to win, which is what we need!”
This story has been updated with Elise Stefanik being elected as the new No. 3 House Republican.