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Stefanik emerges as a frontrunner to replace Cheney

Rep Elise Stefanik speaks before President Donald Trump, right, signs the John McCain National Defense Authorization Act for the 2019 fiscal year in August 2018 at Wheeler-Sack Army Air Field, Fort Drum. (Provided photo — Daytona Niles, Watertown Daily Times)

PLATTSBURGH — Rep. Elise Stefanik of Schuylerville has emerged as a strong contender to replace House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming.

“If Stefanik were to replace Liz Cheney as the conference chair, it would signal that Republicans in the House are determined to have a unified leadership team that does not want to question Trump’s post-election actions regarding contesting the results of the presidential election and the Capitol Hill riots of Jan. 6,” SUNY Plattsburgh political science professor Harvey Schantz said.

“The elevation of Stefanik to the leadership would indicate that the party has a unified leadership group heading into the legislative battles ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.”

Continued criticism

Liz Cheney talks with Wyoming Rep. Tom Reeder before the start of the annual Wyoming Retail Association meeting on May 23, 2013, at the Parkway Plaza Hotel and Convention Center in Casper, Wyoming. She was elected Wyoming's member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016. (AP Photo — Dan Cepeda, Casper Star-Tribune)

The desire to remove Cheney as the third-ranking Republican in the House has grown in the wake of her continued criticism of former President Donald Trump.

Mostly recently, she responded to a statement in which Trump called the 2020 election he lost “fraudulent” and labeling it “THE BIG LIE,” an apparent attempt to commandeer the term used to describe the false claims that the election was stolen from him.

“The 2020 presidential election was not stolen,” Cheney tweeted Monday. “Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.”

The conference is set to meet May 12, according to Axios, which first reported that the GOP would like to replace her with another woman and that Stefanik is on the short list.

The Press-Republican reached out to spokespeople for Stefanik’s office and campaign with multiple questions, including whether she supports Cheney’s ouster and if she is interested in the conference chair position.

The Press-Republican also asked for Stefanik’s take on Cheney’s actions and statements against Trump, and whether she believes “The BIG LIE” refers to the 2020 election or the false claims that it was stolen. No responses were received by press time.

GOP “in crowd”

Schantz referenced to media reports throughout Tuesday that indicated building momentum for Stefanik to succeed Cheney.

For example, Politico reported that Stefanik has emerged as a clear frontrunner, and a Pennsylvania congressman told the New York Post about his efforts to whip up votes for her.

Schantz, whose areas of expertise include American politics, described Stefanik as a member of the GOP’s “in crowd” and noted multiple factors that make her an attractive candidate for conference chair.

He cited the need for gender balance in House Republicans’ leadership team — Cheney is the only woman in the top three — and pointed to how the North Country congresswoman has become a semi-regular on Fox News.

“Therefore, she already has a conduit to reaching the Republican Party faithful.”

Large downside

Schantz also noted Stefanik’s strength as a fundraiser and her track record of campaigning for other Republicans. That includes a PAC dedicated to electing more GOP women.

“Also, Stefanik, because of her role in defending President Donald Trump during the impeachment battles, has developed a lot of credibility with influential party leaders, most notably conservative leader Jim Jordan of Ohio,” he continued.

But dumping Cheney has a large downside for House Republicans, the professor contended.

“It would indicate, or at least give the impression, that in order to serve in party leadership, a Republican has to be loyal to President Donald Trump and not publicly question the former president’s roles in denying the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election and fomenting the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.”

District visibility

Should Republicans win the House majority in 2022, the conference chair position would become the House majority whip, a post of note, Schantz said.

“Although it is a ‘slippery slope,’ rather than a leadership ladder, Stefanik would be a formidable contender for further advances in leadership, as vacancies occur.”

Her elevation to a party leadership position would increase the national visibility of New York’s 21st Congressional District, the professor continued, and guarantee it would be represented in Republican party councils.

“In the House, the majority party controls all of the legislative committees, so Stefanik’s influence would be magnified should the Republicans gain control of the House in 2022. With the recent return of earmarks to Congress, members of both parties are able to benefit their districts, but party leaders have more access and sway with committee and subcommittee chairs.”

First since 1930s

Stefanik’s campaign has previously said she is considering a run for governor, but Schantz is skeptical of whether she will shift gears in that direction.

“Seniority is rewarded in Congress with better office space, better committee assignments and party leadership posts, so I am not sure that Stefanik, who is currently in her fourth term, would give up her House seat, which she would have to in order to run for governor,” Schantz said.

“Furthermore, running for governor would necessitate competing against other eager Republicans, including her House colleague Lee Zeldin of Long Island.”

If Stefanik succeeds Cheney, she would be the first Republican congressional party leader from the North Country since before World War II.

Schantz pointed to Bertrand H. Snell of Potsdam’s tenure as House minority leader from 1931 through 1938. Snell was elected to the post following the 1930 congressional elections when the GOP lost their House majority.

“Snell, as it turned out, had a difficult time resisting FDR’s program as minority leader during the New Deal era, in large part because of the small contingent of House Republicans, (which averaged just 131 of the total 435 membership of the chamber),” Schantz said.

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