Elise Stefanik on Tuesday faced her first formal pushback from a conservative colleague on her apparent glide path to the House GOP’s No. 3 leadership spot after Liz Cheney’s expected ouster from the role.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, sent a memo to every Republican office in the chamber arguing that Stefanik should not be serving in leadership. But Roy hardly embraced Cheney’s continued presence atop the conference, also asserting that the Wyoming Republican no longer deserves to be conference chair.
Despite multiple Freedom Caucus members privately expressing reluctance — if not outright opposition — to Stefanik over concerns about the New Yorker’s past moderate record, Roy is one of only a few House conservatives to take his criticism public. He focused his case against Stefanik on past votes that he contended should disqualify her from leading the conference on messaging.
“We must avoid putting in charge Republicans who campaign as Republicans but then vote for and advance the Democrats’ agenda once sworn in — that is, that we do not make the same mistakes that we did in 2017,” Roy wrote in his memo, which was first obtained by POLITICO.
Roy also warned about the speedy effort by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other GOP leaders to whip rank-and-file members for Stefanik even before Cheney is voted out of the No. 3 role.
“Therefore, with all due respect to my friend, Elise Stefanik, let us contemplate the message Republican leadership is about to send by rushing to coronate a spokesperson whose voting record embodies much of what led to the 2018 ass-kicking we received by Democrats,” Roy wrote.
Stefanik has sought to reassure her skeptical conservative colleagues. She’s pledged to only serve the rest of the current Congress as conference chair and that she would resign before taking a vote that differs from the majority of House Republicans. If Roy’s memo is any guide, though, those promises have yet to fully win over the right flank of the conference.
Asked to address the burgeoning conservative criticism of her bid, Stefanik told reporters Tuesday that “we have a great deal of support from the Freedom Caucus and others.”
Roy was one of the few Freedom Caucus members who voted against challenges to President Joe Biden’s win in January. He also defended Cheney at the time, saying that her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump over the Capitol riot was a vote of conscience.
But Roy later soured on Cheney. After Cheney publicly split from McCarthy about whether Trump should speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference — while the two House GOP leaders were sharing a stage — Roy said publicly that she had “forfeited the right to be chair of the Republican conference.”
“Most Americans do not know who the Republican Conference Chairwoman is or what she does. All they care about is whether we are fighting for them and fighting to stop the radical Democrat agenda that has us driving at full speed ahead toward that iceberg,” Roy wrote.
He added: “This is actually why Liz Cheney will lose her job as Chair this week: she forfeited her ability to be our spokesperson by pulling us into distraction.”
The vote to remove Cheney is set for Wednesday and Roy says he plans to vote to recall her, despite “considering her a friend and trying to give her a chance to succeed.”
The Texan called for his fellow GOP colleagues to either find a No. 3 leader who “reflects our conservative values,” or leave the position vacant altogether to focus on a “strong agenda” rather than a leadership role that voters don’t care about.
Stefanik has won endorsements from some powerful conservatives, including Freedom Caucus co-founder turned McCarthy ally Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Trump himself. The former president has favored Stefanik since she assumed a visible role defending him during his first impeachment trial, and her conversion from a moderate to a Trump defender is enough to convince some Republicans of her leadership bona fides.
Cheney survived a February effort by conservatives to oust her, winning 145-61 in a secret-ballot vote. But this time, Cheney is not whipping votes to try to protect her role in leadership ahead of the high-profile eviction, and her ouster is expected.
In addition, this spring GOP leaders are spearheading the move to boot Cheney while some of her former allies, including moderates, have broken with her over repeated Trump criticism that they say distracts from their efforts to win back the House in 2022.