Top Republicans McCarthy, Scalise back Stefanik as Cheney replacement amid battle over Trump

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The top two Republicans in the House are behind Rep. Elise Stefanik’s efforts to replace Rep. Liz Cheney as Republican conference chair as the party continues to grapple over former President Trump’s future role, according to a report. 

Fox News confirmed Tuesday that Stefanik, R-N.Y., is making calls to members to build support for a potential challenge to Cheney. A senior GOP leadership source told Fox News earlier this week a vote to remove Cheney is “more than likely.” 

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., spokesperson Lauren Fine told Fox News Wednesday that “House Republicans need to be solely focused on taking back the House in 2022… and Elise Stefanik is strongly committed to doing that, which is why Whip Scalise has pledged to support her for Conference Chair.”

Punchbowl News, which first reported Scalise’s support for Stefanik, also reported Wednesday that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is working to ensure Stefanik, R-N.Y., is the only one challenging Cheney.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the House Republican Conference chair, speaks with reporters following a GOP strategy session on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. Cheney is under fire for her repeated comments disputing former President Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“Liz will have more to say in the coming days. This moment is about much more than a house leadership fight,” Cheney spokesperson Jeremy Adler told Fox News Wedneday. Politico reported that Cheney has not been making calls to whip support for a potential vote, as she did the last time her leadership spot was threatened.

Representatives for McCarthy and Stefanik did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Fox News Wednesday morning. 

Cheney survived a vote to remove her as conference chair just over three months ago. But since then she’s had multiple tense moments with other members of GOP leadership, particularly McCarthy, and continued to dispute Trump’s false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen even as other Republicans sought to ignore the issue and mend fences with Trump.

This dynamic has made the situation untenable to many Republicans, who have again begun agitating to remove Cheney from her post as the third-ranking House Republican. And it’s led even McCarthy, who gave what was considered a significant speech in support of Cheney before the February vote, to abandon her.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., questions Secretary of Defense Mark Esper during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on July 9, 2020, in Washington, D.C. Stefanik is gaining support to oust Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., as the Republican conference chair. (Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)

“There’s no concern about how she voted on impeachment, that decision has been made. I have heard from members concerned about her ability to carry out the job as conference chair to carry out the message,” McCarthy said on “Fox & Friends” Tuesday. “We all need to be working as one if we’re able to win the majority. Remember, majorities are not given. They are earned. And that’s about the message about going forward, combating Joe Biden.”

McCarthy continued to say that Republicans should “all work together instead of attacking one another.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks during his weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill, Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Washington. McCarthy is working to ensure Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., doesn’t have any competition for a potential effort to oust Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., as House GOP conference chair. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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But Cheney has refused to budge from her position that the party should distance itself from Trump entirely after his repeated falsehoods about the 2020 election culminated in a rally in D.C. on Jan. 6 as Congress was certifying the Electoral College results. Shortly after Trump’s rally ended, a mob of his supporters attacked the Capitol in a deadly riot, sending hundreds of lawmakers into hiding, with some chanting, “hang Mike Pence.” 

“This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on Jan 6. Liz will not do that. That is the issue,” Cheney spokesperson Jeremy Alder said Tuesday.

The day before that, Cheney also responded to Trump via tweet after the former president issued yet another false statement about the 2020 election, claiming that it was “Fraudulent.” 

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

Others have been even more explicit than McCarthy about ousting Cheney. 

“Liz Cheney was put on notice when our conference held a vote to remove her in February,” Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, said in a statement. “Her role is to lead House Republican messaging, but she is totally unaligned with the majority of our party. We cannot fight for the America First agenda with her in a leadership position.”

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One source told Fox News, “She continues to raise issues with the former president” and added that “if you’re out of sync with Trump,” you’re not in sync with the Republican conference. This poses problems, according to many, because the conference chair position is fundamentally considered to be a messaging position. 

Even a senator from Cheney’s own state, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who stood behind Cheney during the effort to remove her in February, wouldn’t defend her in an interview with Fox News. He did, however, praise Trump as a person who “brings incredible energy to our voters.”

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But others are saying that removing Cheney would be a misstep for the GOP, including high-profile conservative radio host Hugh Hewett.

“It’d be extremely short-sighted and self-destructive [email protected] to move against the very smart @Liz_Cheney,” he tweeted. “You don’t win @HouseGOP maj by subtraction but by addition. Not sure this buzz is more than legacy media addiction to ‘GOP civil war’ narrative but if it is, big mistake.”

Cheney’s team was also circulating a Wall Street Journal editorial on Tuesday in which the publication warned that “Purging Liz Cheney for honesty would diminish the party.”

“Mr. McCarthy knows Ms. Cheney is right. The election wasn’t stolen, yet Mr. Trump wants an endorsement of his stolen claim to be a litmus test for every Republican candidate. He’s the one who wants to refight his losing campaign,” the Journal wrote. 

Fox News’ Chad Pergram and Jason Donner contributed to this report. 

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