House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.p) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), the top two House Republicans, are backing Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) to replace Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) in the No. 3 leadership spot, GOP Conference chair, Punchbowl News reported early Wednesday. McCarthy backed Cheney in an earlier purge attempt but is now publicly signaling he wants her out of leadership.
Stefanik, who gained national prominence defending former President Donald Trump during his first impeachment hearing, has also gotten public backing from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a McCarthy ally, and as "momentum began to build for Stefanik on Tuesday," a top male contender dropped out, Politico reports. Stefanik, 36, "has been calling her colleagues to talk about her interest in the job and garner support, though her supporters believe she's wary of looking eager to knife Cheney."
"Aside from Cheney, McCarthy's leadership team is almost entirely comprised of white men," and "dumping Cheney has created a potentially embarrassing situation for Republican leaders" trying to project a big-tent image for 2022, The Hill reports. Some of the men gunning for the promotion aren't thrilled about the identity politics. "Many in the conference are offended being told that we are ineligible because we are men," one House Republican told The Hill.
Other Republicans and conservative allies argue that ousting Cheney for pushing back against Trump's lie that he won the election is bad politics and bad form. "Every person of conscience draws a line beyond which they will not go: Liz Cheney refuses to lie," Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) tweeted.
Romney's nod probably won't help Cheney among House Republicans, but The Wall Street Journal editorial page also criticized the move. "Trump lost even as Republicans gained 12 seats in the House," and "Republicans should find a way to speak this truth to voters in 2022," the Journal said in a Tuesday night editorial. "Purging Liz Cheney for honesty would diminish the party."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), meanwhile, mocked her GOP counterparts for trying to swap Cheney with a "non-threatening female." Cheney's job is at risk, Pelosi said, "for a litany of very Republican reasons: she won't lie, she isn't humble enough, she's like a girlfriend rooting for the wrong team, and more." That last jab, about the girlfriend, is based on a real quote.