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Republican ex-centrist Stefanik rises on embrace of Trump

By AFP - May 09,2021 - Last updated at May 09,2021

In this file photo Representative Elise Stefanik, a Republican from New York, questions witnesses during a House Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry hearing on Capitol Hill on November 21, 2019 in Washington, DC (AFP photo)

By Michael Mathes
Agence France-Presse

WASHINGTON — US politician Elise Stefanik began her Washington career as a moderate, but has changed tack and surged in influence to likely become the most powerful Republican woman in Congress — a trajectory she owes entirely to her staunch defense of Donald Trump.

Stefanik, just 36 and in Congress for six years, is aiming to oust principled conservative Liz Cheney as House Republican conference chair, a dramatic change of course that concedes the extraordinary shift that is shaping the party’s future around the defeated ex-president.

Political scion Cheney, daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, is on the verge of being punished for refusing to buy into what she calls Trump’s “BIG LIE” that election fraud caused his 2020 defeat to Joe Biden.

The Wyoming conservative’s adherence to election truth appears to be apostasy in Trump’s remade Republican Party, and its members are expected to vote her out of her number three leadership post as early as Wednesday during a scheduled meeting.

Their argument: The party requires solidarity rather than Cheney’s persistent public denunciations of Trump as it seeks to win back the House and Senate majorities in next year’s midterm elections.

Stefanik, a Harvard graduate representing an upstate New York district, has stressed party unity and her unstinting loyalty to Trump as she campaigns for the powerful role.

She ticks several important boxes: Aside from being a woman, she can connect with millennials and voters on the US East Coast, demographics with which Republicans have traditionally struggled.

Trump himself has endorsed her for the post, as has number two House Republican Steve Scalise, making her the clear frontrunner.

“My vision is to run with support from the president and his coalition of voters,” Stefanik told Steve Bannon, a former Trump White House aide, on his Thursday radio show when asked about her plans for helping the GOP win in 2022.

“We are going to run as an alternative to the Biden agenda,” she added.

“I’m committed to being a voice and sending a clear message that we are one team, and that means working with the [former] president and working with all of our excellent Republican members of Congress.”

Stefanik’s rise is emblematic of how advancing in the party no longer requires adherence to fiscal conservative values or muscular foreign policy, but fealty to a controversial former president who still drives the direction of the Republican Party.

 

‘New Republican star’ 

Stefanik, who worked in George W. Bush’s White House, won her first House race in 2014 at age 30, becoming the youngest woman ever elected to Congress at the time.

She earned plaudits for her centrist positions and efforts at bipartisanship.

In 2017 she voted against Trump’s controversial tax cuts, and her 2019 support for legislation that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation riled some conservatives.

She even told Cheney she was “very proud” to have nominated her for conference chair.

But Stefanik also began recognising that her own district’s voters were becoming increasingly enamored with Trump, and she made a shrewd political calculation to join them.

She rose to national prominence in late 2019 when she fiercely defended Trump during his first impeachment hearings.

Trump took notice and trained a spotlight on Stefanik, hailing her as “a new Republican star”.

Even though she drew a determined Democratic effort to unseat her, Stefanik handily won reelection in November 2020.

Weeks later her fidelity was complete, as she announced in January that she would oppose the Electoral College certification in some swing states that voted for Biden.

She told Bannon she “fully” supports an ongoing, unofficial election recount in Arizona, a process apparently intended to legitimise Trump’s false claims of voter fraud.

The majority of Republican lawmakers have been loath to publicly deny Trump’s fraudulent election claims, but on Sunday Congressman Adam Kinzinger, siding with Cheney, told CBS that the 74 million people who voted for Trump “weren’t disenfranchised, they were simply outnumbered”.

“You cannot unify truth with lies. The lie is that the election was stolen, the truth is Joe Biden beat Donald Trump,” he said.

While Stefanik may satisfy a pro-Trump litmus test, conservative organisations have raised concerns about her voting record.

Stefanik “is a liberal” with just a 35 per cent lifetime rating, “4th worst in the House GOP”, the Club For Growth tweeted as it opposed her for conference chair.

“House Republicans should find a conservative to lead messaging and win back the House majority.”

Cheney is far more likely than Stefanik to adhere to traditional Republican positions. According to an index by nonpartisan public policy think tank the Lugar Center, Stefanik was ranked as the 13th most bipartisan member of Congress from 2019 to 2020.

Cheney ranked 421st on the index out of the House’s 435 members.

 

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