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Some Irked by Stefanik's Rise          05/08 07:32


   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Conservatives in and out of Congress are expressing 
opposition to Rep. Elise Stefanik 's rise toward House Republicans' No. 3 
leadership job, grumbling that's unlikely to derail her but serves notice that 
the right wing is battling again to affect the party's future.

   House Republicans plan to meet privately next week, probably Wednesday, and 
seem certain to oust Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., from that top post. House 
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., seems likely to postpone a vote on 
replacing Cheney until sometime later, according to two House GOP aides who 
discussed the delay on condition of anonymity, giving restive conservatives a 
chance to coalesce behind an alternative.

   It's unlikely any challenger would defeat Stefanik, who has the backing of 
former President Donald Trump, McCarthy and No. 2 House GOP leader Steve 
Scalise of Louisiana. That triumvirate -- especially the former president, 
whose grip on the party seems as firm as ever -- virtually assures victory for 
Stefanik, 36, a onetime Trump critic who evolved into his strident ally.

   But with the hard right distrustful of Stefanik, owner of one of the House 
GOP's most moderate voting records, conservatives say forcing her to face a 
challenge would signal she's not universally accepted and will have to contend 
with them moving forward.

   "We must not rush into a de-facto coronation of any handpicked replacement 
whose voting record does not reflect the views of the conference," first-term 
conservative Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., said in a statement. "We must select someone 
who will wholeheartedly support the conservative membership."

   Good said Republicans should be allowed to "work through the process" of 
replacing Cheney. The conservative Club for Growth, wary of Stefanik's past 
opposition to tax cuts and easing environmental regulations, is also pushing 
for time so a Stefanik rival can emerge, a view Republicans say is widely 
shared among conservatives.

   The hard-right House Freedom Caucus has taken no public position on 
Stefanik. But its members, said to number around 40, are known to be 
uncomfortable with her.

   As she works to secure her election, Stefanik has told colleagues she'd 
serve as No. 3 leader only through the 2022 election year, said a GOP lawmaker 
and an aide speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal 
conversations. She's said she'd take the top GOP slot on the House Education 
and Labor Committee the following year. The scenario was first reported by 

   Delaying the Stefanik vote could also help McCarthy, who hopes to be elected 
speaker should Republicans win House control in the 2022 elections. There's no 
need for him to risk support from conservatives, long skeptical of him, by 
denying them a chance to advance a Stefanik challenger.

   The dustup is underscoring the disconnect that sometimes exists between 
Trump and the party's ideological right wing. It also poses a test of 
conservatives' clout when they don't have the former president behind them -- a 
battle they seem likely to lose this time.

   Conservatives have tussled for years for influence within the GOP. They've 
won some fights, like forcing the early retirement of Speaker John Boehner, 
R-Ohio, but lost many others.

   "Leadership elections are always an opportunity for discussions about the 
future" of House Republicans, said Michael Steel, who was a top aide to Boehner 
and other leading GOP figures.

   Stefanik, whose office declined to comment for this article, does have some 
significant conservative credentials. These include past support from the 
National Rifle Association, endorsements from the Susan B. Anthony List, an 
anti-abortion group, and recent praise from Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a 
conservative leader."

   But she's consistently gotten moderate scores for her voting record: a 
lifetime 48% from Heritage Action for America and 35% from Club for Growth, a 
pair of conservative organizations, among the lowest grades for House 

   She voted with Trump 78% of the time when he was president, according to 
votes tracked by the website, again one of the lowest marks 
in the House GOP. That included voting to oppose Trump's signature 2017 tax 
cuts, his unilateral use of money to build the southern border wall and his 
withdrawal of troops from Syria.

   Stefanik has "a lot of work to do" to win over the GOP's more conservative 
activists, said Adam Brandon, president of the conservative FreedomWorks.

   Stefanik criticized Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign, including 
calling his remarks in a 2005 video about sexually assaulting women "offensive" 
and "just wrong." She said his crude description of African countries in 2018 
was "contrary to our American ideals."

   In 2019, she became a highly visible foe of Trump's first impeachment over 
his attempts to pressure Ukraine to produce political dirt about Joe Biden, who 
was then a presidential candidate.

   She has since embraced many of Trump's evidence-free claims about 2020 
election fraud. She declared this week that states unconstitutionally changed 
their election laws and said she supports an audit of Arizona votes that 
conservatives are using to bolster suspicions about the results.

   Stefanik's northern New York district backed Barack Obama in the 2008 and 
2012 presidential election, then Trump in 2016 and 2020.

   "You can't really believe whether she is or isn't" a Trump supporter, the 
Club for Growth's McIntosh said. "I'd warn him that, in a couple of years, she 
won't be for you."

   Cheney, on the other hand, was rated 80% by Heritage Action and 65% by Club 
for Growth, while voting 93% of the time with Trump.

   Cheney is being deposed after voting to impeach Trump for encouraging 
supporters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 and for energetically contesting 
his false claims that his 2020 election defeat to Biden was fraudulent.

   Some Republicans have said that as a party leader, she should have stifled 
her criticisms of Trump, which they fear are distracting from efforts to 
recapture the House. Cheney has cast her position as defending the Constitution.

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