Washington (CNN)House Republicans could vote as early as Wednesday to replace Rep. Liz Cheney as GOP conference chair, a move that would underscore former President Donald Trump’s firm grip on the party months after leaving office.
Cheney’s refusal to embrace Trump’s election lies, and her rebukes of his role in the US Capitol insurrection, has highlighted a tumultuous rift in a Republican Party grappling with its future without Trump in the White House. New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who’s less ideologically conservative than Cheney, appears poised to seize the Wyoming Republican’s post.
But even skeptics of Stefanik’s conservative credentials say she’s preferable to Cheney on the most important factor: her loyalty to the former President. The New York congresswoman became one of Trump’s most visible defenders in Congress as part of his 2020 impeachment defense after initially criticizing Trump’s rhetoric during the 2016 campaign and telling voters that she would be an “independent voice.”
One of just 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump in January, Cheney — the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney — survived a February vote to keep her leadership position by a wide margin, 145 to 61. But she hasn’t backed down from her criticisms of Trump’s election lies, and her continued arguments that the party should move on from the former President have become too much for House Republicans who see him as a crucial part of their winning coalition.
Cheney, who has no intention of stepping aside, wrote in a fiery op-ed for The Washington Post this month, “We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process.”
“Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this,” Cheney wrote. “The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”
Here’s what to watch as the vote approaches:
Leadership gets vocal about Stefanik
While a lot of the strategizing to install Stefanik has happened behind closed doors, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy confirmed on Sunday that he’s supporting her for the influential GOP leadership position.
“Yes, I do,” McCarthy told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo when asked if he supports the New York Republican for the No. 3 role.
Stefanik thanked McCarthy for his support in a tweet later Sunday.
CNN previously reported that McCarthy has been supporting Stefanik to replace Cheney, and the No. 2 member of House Republican leadership, Rep. Steve Scalise, publicly endorsed Stefanik’s bid for the job last week.
The former President also publicly endorsed Stefanik, saying in a statement last week that she “is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement for GOP Conference Chair.”
McCarthy’s evolution has been especially noteworthy. Last month, he was asked if Cheney was still a good fit for leadership. He declined to endorse her as he did in February. The California Republican instead said Cheney’s future would be determined by the conference. A House GOP source who had been in contact with McCarthy said the GOP leader had been “furious” at her for weeks amid her comments about Trump.
Last week, McCarthy claimed Cheney’s impeachment vote wouldn’t cost her the job. Instead, he said t
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