With third-ranking House Republican Liz Cheney now removed from her chairmanship of the House Republican Conference, Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY) has been elected to take Cheney’s place. After being endorsed by both House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Donald Trump, Rep. Stefanik offers a very different look than Cheney, and her sudden rise to prominence has left many questions surrounding her record and expectations for her future as the conference chair.
Elise Stefanik’s first political experience came from her time working in the Bush administration, later working in various conservative organizations before joining former Speaker Paul Ryan’s vice presidential debate team in the 2012 presidential election. Shortly after, she was elected as a member of the House of Representatives in 2014, representing New York’s large and rural 21st district. Stefanik was the youngest woman elected to Congress at the time.
Since her work on Paul Ryan’s campaign team, she has seemed to understand the voter demographic concerns animating many in the Republican Party. The party needed to do more to reach out to Hispanics, women, and young people, and Stefanik represented a breath of fresh air within the party who exemplified this new initiative.
Immediately, Stefanik gained a reputation for being a primarily bipartisan legislator, often taking stances that differed from those typically espoused by religious conservatives. Stefanik has been pro-life since her entrance into Congress but has noted that Republicans should be more understanding of pro-choice sentiments. She voted against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, highlighting the bill’s removal of the SALT tax deductions as an unnecessary burden on constituents within her district. Stefanik agreed with then-President Trump on 78% of his political positions, which would constitute lukewarm support, though she defended Trump in his impeachment trials before the Democrat-controlled House.
Stefanik’s rise to prominence has been a byproduct of the wave of Republican women filling seats in Congress over the last few election cycles. She supported Trump’s claims of electoral fraud and inconsistencies – claims that were challenged by Cheney, sparking headlines in recent weeks.
Stefanik’s commitment to any particular ideological wing of the Republican Party remains relatively unclear. She has a more moderate voting record than many Republicans. A few onlookers see her as a natural replacement for Cheney; maintaining a moderate appeal while remaining firmly on the side of the Trump coalition. Her appeal lies within the new image sought by many in the GOP, but she refuses to engage the mainstream media’s desire to keep Trump as the party’s central point of focus. Left-leaning media outlets are already portraying her as a rabid pro-Trump religious conservative, despite her mixed voting record. Elise Stefanik cannot change how the media portrays the GOP, so job one for her during this time of trial for the GOP will be to help maintain – or build – a united Republican coalition in the House.
Read more from Jose Backer.