New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, now backed by House Leadership and Pres. Trump, appears to be in position to replace Rep. Liz Cheney as House GOP Conference Chair, the No. 3 position in the House Leadership for Republicans. Stefanik would fall in line behind Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise.
But in a significant twist, it was reported late on Friday that in calling around to gauge support for her move to replace Cheney, Stefanik was telling members that she would step aside from the leadership position at the start of 2023 in order to return to the House Education and Workforce Committee.
If true, this likely reflects an understanding by McCarthy and Scalise that the moderate Stefanik would be received with mixed reactions from the more conservative members of the GOP caucus, notwithstanding her “good standing” with the MAGA community and the endorsement from Pres. Trump. As I covered previously, Stefanik has a moderate-to-liberal voting record on many issues that are important to the more conservative members of the caucus, most notably on immigration and cultural issues, where she voted against the Trump Administration and GOP policies.
Stefanik’s promise to step aside is likely designed to ease her way into replacing Cheney, even though Cheney’s voting record is far more conservative. Cheney has made herself radioactive with the GOP base because of her unwillingness to focus her attention on the mid-term elections in November 2022. Instead, she beats the drum — much to the delight of the Democrats and media — for the NeverTrumpers who somehow think there is some magical exorcism ceremony that can cleanse the GOP of the influences of the Trump presidency. She has quite deliberately made herself the poster-child for a return to the Bush-Cheney-McCain-Romney years of the GOP.
Donald Trump won the GOP nomination for president because he hammered at the Bush-Cheney-McCain-Romney establishment wing of the GOP. It may simply be true that Liz Cheney can never divorce herself or alter her politics to fit into the new political reality of the post-Obama GOP. If true, then she doesn’t belong in the position of Conference Chair, because she is out of step with the GOP House Caucus.
But Stefanik’s politics put her out of step, as well. What she is not, however, is radioactive with the GOP base.
The GOP expects that it will recapture the House Majority in 2022, and all signs point to that happening. McCarthy will need to fight for the votes he is going to need to become Speaker because of his own checkered past with the more conservative elements of the GOP caucus. He knew he could not protect Cheney any longer and have any hope of becoming Speaker, if the GOP does capture the House.
At the same time, the GOP is trying to win back some of the suburban female voters who voted for Democrats in larger numbers in 2018 and 2020. Sacking a woman from the No. 3 Leadership position and replacing her with a man would have been used against the GOP politically, leading up to 2022. That’s why finding an acceptable female to replace Cheney was crucial to making the move now, 18 months prior to the 2022 elections.
While Stefanik would not be acceptable from a political standpoint, given her very moderate voting record, her strong support for Pres. Trump on all the issues where he came under personal attack endeared her with him and his MAGA constituency. She checks all the boxes as a short-term fix to the Cheney problem. Her pledge to step down from the position in 2023 solved the problem of her politics and voting record in a leadership position.
A member of the House of Representatives usually makes a selection early in their career if they want to pursue a position in party leadership in the House, or whether they want to advance as fast as possible in seniority on a particular Standing Committee in the House, which will ultimately give them significant influence on budget matters and legislative language. This is typically an “either-or” decision.
Stefanik is currently sixth in seniority on the House Education and Workforce Committee. The current Ranking Member is GOP Rep. Virginia Foxx from North Carolina, who turns 78 this year. Another member ahead of Stefanik in seniority is Joe Wilson of South Carolina. But Wilson is second in seniority on the Armed Services Committee, and would likely prefer being Chair of that Committee to the Education and Workforce Committee. Another ahead of Stefanik in seniority is Rep. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania, who is currently the Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee, and would be in line to become Chairman of that Committee, if the GOP takes the House.
It is quite likely that Stefanik is bargaining with her willingness to replace Cheney on a short-term basis, in exchange for support to either become Chair of the Education and Workforce Committee or at least to Chair one of its main Subcommittees, should the GOP take over the House in 2022. Her political profile is such that she would likely never be in line to be Speaker, if she remained in leadership.
If McCarthy’s bid to be Speaker is derailed again — he was in line after John Boehner’s resignation, but Paul Ryan was elevated because the GOP caucus was divided over McCarthy — it is a virtual certainty that Steve Scalise will become Speaker. Stefanik would have been a poor candidate for House Majority Leader and would have likely faced a strong challenge from a more conservative member for that position. Her promise to step aside indicates that she understood this problem well.