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Trump backs Stefanik to replace Cheney

Former President TrumpDonald TrumpMaria Bartiromo defends reporting: 'Keep trashing me, I'll keep telling the truth' The Memo: The center strikes back Republicans eye Nashville crack-up to gain House seat MORE on Wednesday endorsed a close ally, Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Canadian ambassador calls for close coordination in handling of US border Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision MORE (R-N.Y.), to replace one of his most vocal critics, Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyCheney: 'It is disgusting and despicable' to see Gosar 'lie' about Jan. 6 GOP's Stefanik defends Trump DOJ secret subpoenas McCarthy pushes back on Biden criticism of GOP at NATO MORE (R-Wyo.), on the House GOP leadership team.

Trump and Stefanik spoke Wednesday morning, a source close to the president confirmed. The conversation comes as Stefanik looks all but certain to replace Cheney as chair of the House Republican Conference as top Trump allies plot to oust the No. 3 leader.

"Liz Cheney is a warmongering fool who has no business in Republican Party Leadership," Trump said in a statement issued later Wednesday. "We want leaders who believe in the Make America Great Again movement, and prioritize the values of America First. Elise Stefanik is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement for GOP Conference Chair. Elise is a tough and smart communicator!"

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Stefanik in a tweet then thanked Trump for his "100% support."

"We are unified and focused on FIRING PELOSI & WINNING in 2022!" she added

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Trump's endorsement was first reported by Punchbowl News.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyGOP divided over bills targeting tech giants GOP increasingly balks at calling Jan. 6 an insurrection House Democrats' campaign arm raises almost million in May MORE (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseHillicon Valley: Senate unanimously confirms Chris Inglis as first White House cyber czar | Scrutiny mounts on Microsoft's surveillance technology | Senators unveil bill to crack down on cyber criminals Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision FCC votes to advance proposed ban on Chinese telecom equipment MORE (R-La.), along with many rank-and-file Republicans, are moving to oust Cheney for continuing to speak out against Trump for his false claims the 2020 election was stolen and his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. 

Stefanik is extremely close with McCarthy; Scalise endorsed Stefanik for the No. 3 leadership job on Wednesday. A closed-door, secret-ballot vote to remove Cheney from leadership could come as soon as next week. 

Trump’s endorsement of Stefanik means the race to replace Cheney is effectively over, and highlights the firm grasp the 45th president still has on the GOP four months after he left the White House. 

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), the ambitious chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), had been publicly critical of Cheney and hinted he might run for the No. 3 job. But on Tuesday, he told The Hill there was “zero percent chance” he would leave the RSC this cycle. Another Hoosier, Rep. Jackie WalorskiJacqueline (Jackie) R. WalorskiStefanik shake-up jump-starts early jockeying for committee posts Loyalty trumps policy in Stefanik's rise, Cheney's fall Trump backs Stefanik to replace Cheney MORE (R-Ind.), also has taken herself out of the running.

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Though Stefanik has a fairly moderate voting record, she has been one of Trump’s most vocal supporters. Her staff features multiple Trump White House and campaign alumni, including Karoline Leavitt and Ali Pardo, who serve as Stefanik’s communications directors on the House and campaign side, respectively.

Trump has viewed Stefanik as a rising star within the party and a loyal ally dating back to her defense of the then-president during his first impeachment in 2019. 

Stefanik sharply questioned witnesses and criticized House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSunday shows - Voting rights, infrastructure in the spotlight Schiff calls Iranian presidential election 'predetermined' Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (D-Calif.) during the proceedings in the House, and she was a vocal defender of Trump’s during the Senate trial. Stefanik was among the lawmakers Trump recognized at a White House ceremony in February 2020 to celebrate his acquittal on charges of abuse of power and obstruction for pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate the Bidens.

“It’s most incredible what’s going on with you, Elise. I was up campaigning for — helping her and I thought, she looks good, she looks like good talent,” Trump said in February 2020. “But I did not realize, when she opens that mouth — you were killing them, Elise. You were killing them.”

--Updated at 12:12 p.m.