Republicans in the US House of Representatives have elected Donald Trump’s candidate Elise Stefanik to their leadership, succeeding Liz Cheney, who they ousted earlier this week for criticising the former president’s continued false claims of election fraud.
Stefanik, a 36-year-old congresswoman from New York state, rose to prominence with her fierce defence of Trump during his first impeachment trial, while Cheney angered her Republican colleagues by rejecting what she called Trump’s “big lie” about his November loss to Democratic President Joe Biden.
The secret-ballot vote boosted Trump’s dominance over the party even after it lost its majorities in the House and Senate, as well as the White House, during his single term in office. Trump is positioning himself to play a major role in next year’s congressional elections and is also flirting with a 2024 White House run.
“He is a critical part of our Republican team,” Stefanik said on Friday. “I believe that voters choose the leader of the Republican Party and President Trump is the leader that they look to.”
Stefanik defeated Representative Chip Roy, who entered the race to serve as chair of the House Republican Conference on Thursday night.
House conservatives including Roy had complained that Stefanik’s voting record was not conservative enough, including a vote against Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, his main legislative accomplishment. But the party in the end lined up behind Trump, who blasted Roy’s entry into the contest.
The secret ballot tally, according to a source in the room, was 134-46, with nine voting “present” and three votes cast for other candidates.
Cheney has vowed to continue to fight to prevent Trump from winning the White House again in 2024.
Stefanik was a fierce defender of Trump during his two House impeachment trials. Despite her somewhat moderate voting record, she defeated the rock-solid conservative Roy.
Following the closed-door vote, Trump issued a statement saying: “Congratulations to Elise Stefanik for her Big and Overwhelming victory!”
In celebrating Stefanik’s victory, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy tried to put the bruising leadership battle behind Republicans.
During remarks to reporters with Stefanik at his side, McCarthy instead launched an attack on Biden, blaming him for an immigration “crisis” at the southern border, petrol shortages on the east coast due a cyber-attack on a major pipeline, and unrest in Israel.
Democrats hold a razor-thin majority in the House and a 50-50 split with Republicans in the Senate. Republicans are optimistic of taking over the House in the November 2022 elections.