Elise Stefanik Faces Increased Conservative Headwinds In Rise To Leadership

Elise Stefanik Faces Increased Conservative Headwinds In Rise To Leadership

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(CNN)GOP leaders are moving swiftly to install Rep. Elise Stefanik as the No. 3 Republican in the House on Friday in a rapid effort to unify the party, but the move comes as a growing number of conservatives are expressing doubts that the New York congresswoman has the credentials or voting record needed to step into the job.

Stefanik is now working to try and reassure conservatives that she won’t buck them on key votes despite a more moderate voting record, members say, but the effort comes as she is facing increasing pressure from members of the House Freedom Caucus.

Stefanik is still seen as a favorite by Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and the whip team has already begun an all-out effort on her behalf, but Stefanik’s late embrace of former President Donald Trump, her vote against the former President’s signature tax bill and her fast coronation by leadership has brought to the surface an underlying fissure in the Republican Party that can’t be dissolved even now that Rep. Liz Cheney has been ousted from the job.

    It’s not expected to end or even seriously imperil Stefanik’s rise to be the next House Republican Conference chairwoman, but it’s a headache for leaders who are hoping to quickly unite the party after weeks of turmoil.

      “I think it’s premature to talk about that,” Rep. Scott Perry, a Republican from Pennsylvania said when asked if he backed Stefanik. “There could be other candidates. We are just getting started. We had to get past today and now that we are, let’s see where we are. I don’t want to predetermine anything. It is disrespectful for anyone who might be considering the position.”

        Stefanik said Wednesday afternoon she “absolutely” has enough votes in the House GOP Conference to secure her election to the position, even if someone else decides to jump in the race.

        “We have great support conference-wide, from members of the Freedom Caucus to (the Republican Study Committee) to Tuesday Group,” she said, referencing factions of Republicans that range from very conservative to more moderate.

          The House Freedom Caucus, a group of Trump-aligned far-right Republicans led by Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, held a forum with Stefanik on Wednesday evening, which the New York congresswoman called “a great conversation” after it concluded.

          “My message was I’m focused on unifying the conference and beating Democrats and we have an opportunity to do that that is historic in beating the most radical socialist agenda in this country,” Stefanik said after the meeting. She did not answer when asked if she had won over the support of the caucus.

          Rep. Russ Fulcher of Idaho said the meeting featured a lot of “blunt questions” from the group and that Stefanik was given the opportunity to explain her voting record, which he said is the caucus’ greatest concern about her, even though she has the backing of Trump.

          Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, who has already endorsed Stefanik, praised her performance. “I think Elise acquitted herself well. She took the questions from the members,” he said. “She was very poignant, she was very direct,” the freshman Republican said, adding that it’s possible she “won some hearts and minds.”

          The meeting came after Rep. Chip Roy, a member of the group, sent a letter to colleagues casting doubt on Stefanik’s qualifications earlier in the week.

          Roy suggested the GOP Conference should hit “pause” after ousting Cheney and assess the leadership team.

          “I think what’s past is prologue,” Roy said of Stefanik’s voting record. “I give people a lot of grace for disagreements on votes. It’s not any one vote. It’s just the body of work.”

          Roy told CNN ahead of the Wednesday evening meeting he has had a “few conversations” with other possible candidates for the No. 3 job but was uncertain if a challenger would emerge.

          “I think there’s a lot of great folks in the c

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