WASHINGTON — The battle at the top of the Republican Party entered a new front Wednesday as House Minority Whip Steve Scalise publicly backed Rep. Elise Stefanik to replace Rep. Liz Cheney as chair of the House Republican Conference.
“House Republicans need to be solely focused on taking back the House in 2022 and fighting against Speaker Pelosi and President Biden’s radical socialist agenda, and Elise Stefanik is strongly committed to doing that, which is why Whip Scalise has pledged to support her for conference chair,” Scalise’s spokeswoman, Lauren Fine, told NBC News.
The statement was first reported by Punchbowl News.
This means that the top two House Republican leaders — Scalise of Louisiana and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California — no longer have confidence in Cheney, clearing the way for her removal as the party’s third-ranking leader in the House. Cheney, of Wyoming, remains defiant and will not step down from her leadership role, her spokesman said.
In order for Cheney to be removed, a motion would have to be raised before the conference, which will then have to vote. That could happen as early as May 12 when the House is back in session and Republicans are likely to hold their next conference meeting.
Stefanik, 36, of New York, who has served in the House since 2015, has been making calls to fellow GOP members in a bid to replace the embattled Cheney, two Republicans with direct knowledge told NBC News.
Stefanik’s prominence within the GOP conference increased during the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump when she vigorously defended him.
This comes after the feud between McCarthy and Cheney appeared to reach a breaking point Monday. McCarthy was heard telling “Fox and Friends” host Steve Doocy off-air ahead of a live interview Tuesday about Cheney: “I think she’s got real problems.”
“I’ve had it with her. You know, I’ve lost confidence,” said McCarthy in the recording, which has not been obtained by NBC News. “Well, someone just has to bring a motion, but I assume that will probably take place.”
Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, has served as conference chair since January 2019 and has been in the House since 2017. She’s come under fire from her colleagues because she has strongly rejected Trump’s claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and GOP efforts to whitewash the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Cheney was the highest-ranking Republican to vote to impeach Trump during his second Senate trial in February.