Stefanik secures rising star status in year one as GOP chair
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) has emerged as a rising force within the House Republican Conference a year after taking over as conference chair amid the turmoil surrounding Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) ouster from leadership.
Republican lawmakers unsurprisingly hail Stefanik for bringing consistency to the party’s messaging.
It’s a big change from the days when House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) had awkward press conferences with Cheney, the previous No. 3 GOP leader who was not shy about blasting former President Trump.
That’s far from the case with the 37-year-old Stefanik, and a big reason why she’s seen as a rising GOP star.
“I’ll just say one thing,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus. “It has been a step up.”
Members are happy that the House GOP no longer has its top messenger publicly criticizing Trump.
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) said that Stefanik “lived up to every promise that she made to me before she asked me for my vote for conference chair.”
Stefanik isn’t shy about criticizing her predecessor, even though she formally nominated Cheney to be GOP chair in both 2018 and 2020.
“We basically had to turn the lights on in-conference by the point that we had that turnover. It was very much focused on propping up Liz Cheney and no longer serving the members,” Stefanik told The Hill in an interview.
Cheney’s team disputed that characterization. “Elise Stefanik abandoned any commitment to the truth a long time ago,” said Jeremy Adler, a Cheney spokesman.
Cheney’s ouster was a reflection of the division within the GOP over Trump. But in truth, a larger majority of the conference is happier to have a unified leadership team focused on messaging hitting President Biden and Democrats. Cheney, now a member of the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot, has continued to criticize Trump.
“Top-polling issues are inflation, the economic crisis as far as labor shortage and workforce development, the crime crisis as well, the border security crisis as well, and on all of those issues we have been very disciplined on messaging, and the polling shows that we maintain double-digit leads on every single issue,” Stefanik said.
Stefanik embraces Trump’s political legacy and is happy to adopt Biden’s “ultra-MAGA” label that he recently put on Republicans.
“I am ultra-MAGA. I’m proud of it,” Stefanik said in a press conference this past week.
Stefanik hasn’t been immune to criticism about her communications style that at times echoes Trump, though.
On Monday, she blasted the media and the left for connecting her to a deadly shooting in Buffalo where 10 people were killed by a what supremacist.
“Any implication or attempt to blame the heinous shooting in Buffalo on the Congresswoman is a new disgusting low for the Left, their Never Trump allies, and the sycophant stenographers in the media,” Stefanik senior adviser Alex DeGrasse said. “The shooting was an act of evil and the criminal should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Critics, including Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), brought up past ads run by Stefanik on Facebook criticizing Democrats for wanting to give amnesty to undocumented immigrations for electoral purposes to the racist replacement theory pushed by the Buffalo gunman. That theory poses that there is an intentional effort to replace white Americans with people of color by encouraging immigration.
“Despite sickening and false reporting, Congresswoman Stefanik has never advocated for any racist position or made a racist statement,” DeGrasse said.
But despite that, public criticism is not publicly coming from the hard-right conservative GOP ranks that have criticized Stefanik in the past.
Several members of the House Freedom Caucus, a body frequently critical of House GOP leadership, had no public complaints about Stefanik. That marks a notable shift from when some members last year expressed reservations about her voting record and said that she was less conservative than Cheney by some metrics.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who ran against Stefanik for the conference chair position last year, listed in a letter at the time several previous Stefanik votes that he found problematic. But on Thursday, Roy said he “hadn’t studied Elise’s voting record,” adding that she has been “nothing but respectful” and that “we work together great.”
Stefanik featured Roy in a House GOP press conference this week on the border with top border officials, a topic that Roy is very vocal about.
But positive reviews of Stefanik’s performance thus far have an asterisk for some members. A tougher test of her leadership abilities would be how she handles divisions if Republicans win the majority.
“We’re in the minority. We can’t do a whole lot,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), the current chairman of the House Freedom Caucus. “But I think she’s done pretty solid.”
One point of pride for Stefanik is that a New York Times reporter asked during one of her first press conferences as head of the House Republican Conference whether Republicans were being “a bit over the top” by saying that America was in “crisis” over energy, inflation, the border and more.
“Thank you so much for embracing our effective messaging,” Stefanik said at the time.
As chair, Stefanik shifted the conference’s internal messaging strategy to send more rapid response emails on GOP messaging guidance to members about breaking news events. That’s in addition to Revolutionary War-themed emails to members as an ode to her upstate New York district: weekly “Conference Cannon” messaging and “Patriot” legislative updates emails, and “Battleground” emails for when members are back in their district.
According to conference staff, the House GOP in the last year has provided more than 270 messaging documents for members, gained more than 200,000 Twitter followers and had more than 1,000 uses of its studio with more than 500 member interviews.
On the campaign side, Stefanik has built relationships with GOP women through her E-PAC, which aims to elect more Republican women to Congress. In 2020, 11 of the 15 seats that flipped Republican were won by women endorsed by Stefanik’s E-PAC. It has endorsed 22 Republican women so far in this cycle who are running for Congress for the first time.
Stefanik has raised more than $12 million this cycle for her various campaign committees and other targeted GOP candidates, according to her campaign and has transferred more than $2 million to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Those are the kind of figures that could make Stefanik a leading contender for a higher leadership spot. She is widely rumored to be eyeing the House majority whip position, which would be open if Republicans win the majority, McCarthy moves up to Speaker and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) moves up to majority leader.
Stefanik declined to discuss future ambitions, saying that she is focused on the midterm elections.
“I have not made a decision yet,” Stefanik said, noting that redistricting in New York has not yet been settled. “We’re going to get those updated lines soon here.”
The current House GOP has been hit with repeated flare-ups from members on the fringes, including those that prompted Democrats to strip Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) from their committees. But the House GOP has declined to directly counter those members, and in some cases defended and elevated them. Greene was a speaker at a House Republican press conference led by Stefanik this week.
“These crises are really unifying House Republicans,” Stefanik said. “When it comes to securing the border, I served in previous Congresses where that was a challenging issue for the Republican Congress to work through. That is no longer the case.”
On top of becoming conference chair, Stefanik took on another new title in the last year: mom. Her first child, Samuel, arrived in August.
“She had a baby in the midst of all this, which is a pretty remarkable thing, but has kept her hands steady at the wheel the whole time,” said Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), vice chairman of the House Republican Conference.
Stefanik said she looks up to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who was conference chair before Cheney.
“I don’t know if I would have felt the confidence to run for this position had I not seen Cathy as a role model who gave birth to two of her three children when she was conference chair,” Stefanik said.
This story was updated at 11:43 a.m.
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