House Republicans have voted to place Donald Trump loyalist Elise Stefanik in a leadership post, cementing the former president’s enduring grip on the party more than three months after he left the White House.
Republican lawmakers cast their votes by secret ballot on Friday morning just days after they ousted Liz Cheney, a congresswomen from Wyoming and daughter of former vice-president Dick Cheney, from the same job for her attacks on Trump.
Stefanik, a 36-year-old lawmaker from the northern, rural part of New York state, prevailed in the race to replace Cheney as House Republican conference chair after a challenge from the right from Chip Roy, a member of Congress from Texas who questioned her conservative credentials.
“The American people are experiencing an economic crisis, a border crisis, an energy crisis and a national security crisis due to far-left radical policies,” Stefanik said in a statement on Friday.
Stefanik had frequently criticised Trump earlier in her congressional career, but by the final stages of his presidency she has become one of his most ardent supporters in Congress. In turn, Trump backed her rise within the party, including with a statement on the eve of Friday’s vote.
“Can’t imagine Republican House Members would go with Chip Roy — he has not done a great job, and will probably be successfully primaried in his own district. I support Elise, by far, over Chip!” Trump said.
Stefanik’s ascent capped a week of internal drama and strife within the Republican party. Just before being removed from the Republican leadership, Cheney launched a blistering attack on her fellow party members for kowtowing to Trump and undermining US democracy.
Cheney was among the few Republicans who voted to impeach Trump this year after a mob of his supporters carried out a deadly assault on the US Capitol on January 6.
“I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy,” Cheney said.
Stefanik’s election as conference chair — effectively the number three position in the caucus — reflects the extent to which Kevin McCarthy, the party leader in the lower chamber, has come to accept Trump’s influence over his rank-and-file members.
After the January 6 attack, McCarthy had said Trump bore “responsibility” for the deadly riot, but later defended the former president.
This week, he insisted that he accepted Joe Biden as the sitting US president after a meeting at the White House, trying to fend off accusations that he supported conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
“I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election,” McCarthy said. “I think that is all over with”.