House Republicans elected Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York to their leadership ranks Friday morning, elevating an ally of former President Donald Trump to replace a prominent critic, Rep. Liz Cheney, who was ousted earlier this week.
The swift installation of Ms. Stefanik, just 48 hours after Ms. Cheney was booted out of GOP leadership, highlighted House Republicans’ desire to change the subject away from their intraparty fight over Mr. Trump and focus instead on regaining the House in next year’s midterm elections.
Ms. Stefanik won in a 134-46 vote, defeating conservative Texan GOP Rep. Chip Roy, who jumped into the race Thursday evening. Mr. Roy had criticized Ms. Stefanik for her previous track record as a moderate Republican who had broken with Mr. Trump. She later became a defender of the former president, who endorsed her in the race.
“I’m proud of President Trump’s support,” Ms. Stefanik said Thursday evening ahead of the vote. “He is the most important leader in our party for voters, and it’s going to be important that we work as a team to win the majority in 2022.”
Ms. Stefanik, 36 years old, will serve as conference chair, a position largely focused on communicating the party’s message, and will be the only woman in House GOP leadership. Currently, in her fourth term, she entered Congress as a more centrist Republican. She voted against Mr. Trump’s tax law in December 2017 because it capped the state and local tax deduction at $10,000, which disproportionately affected tax filers in high-tax states like New York.
But her profile rose during Mr. Trump’s first impeachment trial, where her sparring with Democrats drew the national spotlight, as well as Mr. Trump’s approval.
Mr. Trump had backed Ms. Stefanik last week and reiterated his support Thursday evening when Mr. Roy announced he was entering the race.
“Can’t imagine Republican House Members would go with Chip Roy—he has not done a great job,” Mr. Trump said in a statement Thursday night. “I support Elise, by far, over Chip!”
Some Republicans had groused about the speed of the election to replace Ms. Cheney, who represents Wyoming, arguing that the one intervening day didn’t provide enough time for challengers to mount a campaign. Mr. Trump’s endorsement of Ms. Stefanik helped her win over some conservatives, though others had grumbled about the lack of competition and eyed Ms. Stefanik’s early voting record with skepticism.
“You can look at the policy issues and you see a pretty clear distinction,” Mr. Roy said Thursday night. “We’re having a robust debate about issues here, and it’s a good thing.”
House Republicans said Ms. Stefanik’s win would end an uncomfortable era in which Ms. Cheney had pushed back on Mr. Trump’s baseless allegations that he had won the election, at a time when other GOP leaders were aligning themselves with the former president.
“If you want leaders who will enable and spread his destructive lies, I’m not your person, you have plenty of others to choose from. That will be their legacy,” Ms. Cheney had said at the Wednesday House GOP meeting where she was removed from her post.
Many Republicans had complained that Ms. Cheney was pursuing her own agenda, rather than representing the entire House GOP.
“This isn’t about anybody’s voting record,” said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R., Pa.), who helped pin down support for Ms. Stefanik leading up to Friday’s vote. “This job is about messaging. Elise can clearly message on point. And she’s also somebody that can drive home the message of the entire conference.”
Ms. Stefanik had indicated to lawmakers that she doesn’t plan to remain in leadership in the long term and has her eye on the top committee spots on the House Education and Labor or Intelligence panels.
“My long-term plan had always been for committees, and I’m still obviously an active member and very passionate about committees,” she said earlier this week.
Amid tensions still roiling the House, Democrats said they opposed Ms. Stefanik’s decision to object to some Biden electors during the Jan. 6 session of Congress certifying President Biden’s victory that was interrupted by the pro-Trump Capitol riot.
“I do regret the statements that she and others have made in furtherance of the untruths about the results of the last presidential election. They are deeply regrettable,” said Rep. Matt Cartwright (D., Pa.).
In statements this month, Mr. Trump has said the election was “rigged and stolen from us” and was “the greatest Election Fraud in the history of our Country.” No widespread fraud has been detected in the 2020 election, and the Justice Department under Mr. Trump said there was no evidence of any fraud significant enough to question the outcome.
Mr. Trump was impeached by the House in January for inciting insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed a session of Congress in a failed attempt to stop lawmakers from ratifying President Biden’s electoral college win. The Senate acquitted Mr. Trump in February.