Stefanik seen as possible winner in GOP power struggle

Updated: May. 4, 2021 at 11:00 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WWNY) - The number 3 Republican in the House of Representatives could soon be fired from her leadership job - and north country congresswoman Elise Stefanik may replace her.

Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, could lose her position as conference chair for Republicans in the House as soon as next week.

Although Cheney is deeply conservative and the daughter of former Vice-President Dick Cheney, she committed what is an unforgivable sin to many Republicans, by voting to impeach former President Trump over the insurrection at the Capitol January 6.

Stefanik, who has strong support in the Trump wing of the party, is prominently mentioned as a possible replacement for Cheney.

“Representative Stefanik sticks out because of her prominent role in the national party, because of her defense (of Trump) during the impeachment proceedings, she’s camera ready and it’s clear that she wants to take on a leadership role,” said Alexander Cohen, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Clarkson University.

If Stefanik secured the number 3 slot, it would likely mean more money and clout for northern New York.

“Having a more influential representative is good for the district and it would be good for the north country,” Cohen said.

7 News reached out to the Stefanik campaign for comment Tuesday. We’ll update this story if we hear back.

On Tuesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stepped up pressure on Cheney, claiming rank-and-file concerns about “her ability to carry out her job” as she trades insults with former President Donald Trump.

McCarthy’s comments on the Fox News Channel underscored the continued, if not growing, grip that the former president has on the House GOP. They also spotlighted an increasingly open split between McCarthy and Cheney.

Rather than standing by Cheney — as he did during a failed effort to oust her in February — McCarthy essentially planted himself in the camp of her pro-Trump critics. His positioning with her detractors and their increasingly outspoken attacks suggest her hold on her leadership job is in renewed peril.

“I have heard from members concerned about her ability to carry out her job as conference chair, to carry out the message,” said McCarthy, R-Calif. “We all need to be working as one if we’re able to win the majority. Remember, majorities are not given. They are earned.”

McCarthy’s remarks come with Republicans optimistic about their chances of winning back control of the House in the 2022 elections. The GOP believes it has a trove of issues to use against Democrats and wants the focus there, not on internal party rifts.

But between now and next year’s elections, the GOP must resolve the power struggle between the party’s pro-Trump loyalists and those who believe he has damaged the party and country by repeatedly — and falsely — claiming that last November’s presidential election was stolen from him.

The fight between Cheney and her critics stands as a microcosm of that battle. It also puts the GOP in the awkward position of seeking to oust its highest-ranking woman from her post at a time when the party is trying to erode Democrats’ decisive advantage among female voters.

Asked about McCarthy’s comments, Cheney spokesperson Jeremy Adler said in a written statement, “This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on Jan 6. Liz will not do that. That is the issue.”

Further demonstrating the schism between the two GOP leaders, one top Republican congressional aide said McCarthy had weeks ago urged Cheney to stop talking about Trump, and her failure to do that has boosted frustration with her. McCarthy, who delivered a speech supporting her when House Republicans privately voted to keep her in February, will not do that this time, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal conversations.

A vote on whether to remove Cheney could occur as early as next Wednesday, when House Republicans are next scheduled to meet. The House is not in session this week.

Potential contenders to replace Cheney include Stefanik and Jackie Walorski of Indiana, the aide said.

McCarthy was interviewed a day after Trump mounted a fresh offensive on his assertions. Numerous state and federal courts and local election officials have unearthed no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 voting,

Trump critics have labeled his claims “The Big Lie,” and he issued a statement trying to claim that moniker himself.

“The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!” he wrote.

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