Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend

Stefanik’s rise toward leadership post draws fire from conservati­ves

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WASHINGTON — Conservati­ves in and out of Congress are expressing opposition to Rep. Elise Stefanik ’s rise toward House Republican­s’ No. 3 leadership job, grumbling that is 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,” firstterm conservati­ve Rep. Bob Good, R-5th, 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.

Delaying the Stefanik vote could also be valuable to 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, who have long been 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’ internal 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.

Stefanik, whose office declined to comment, does have some significan­t conservati­ve credential­s. These include past support from the National Rifle Associatio­n and endorsemen­ts from the Susan B. Anthony

List, an anti-abortion group.

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 Republican­s.

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 multiple times during his 2016 presidenti­al campaign, including saying that his remarks in a 2005 video about sexually assaulting women were “offensive” and

“just wrong.” She said his crude descriptio­n of African countries in 2018 was “wrong and 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 that some GOP poll watchers weren’t allowed to observe vote counting, and she said she supports an audit of Arizona votes that conservati­ves are using to bolster suspicions about the results.

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.

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Stefanik
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Cheney

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