(Bloomberg) — New York Republican Representative Elise Stefanik, who is poised to replace Wyoming’s Liz Cheney as chair of the House Republican conference, has risen in the party’s ranks largely through her recent loyalty to former President Donald Trump.
First elected as a moderate from upstate New York in 2014, Stefanik opposed Trump’s signature tax cut law. But she became one of Trump’s most vocal defenders when Democrats impeached him in 2019 over his allegations he pressured Ukraine to smear his then-likely rival President Joe Biden. Trump at the time labeled her a “new Republican Star.”
Now, Trump is backing her to replace Cheney, who faces being removed from party leadership over her continued criticism of the former president.
“Elise Stefanik is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL endorsement for GOP Conference Chair. Elise is a tough and smart communicator!,” Trump wrote in a statement issued Wednesday.
Stefanik, 36, gained national prominence cross-examining impeachment investigation witnesses before the House Intelligence Committee, and in January 2020 was named a member of Trump’s defense team in his first Senate impeachment trial.
Stefanik voted against certifying the 2020 election results hours after a violent mob of Trump supporters rioted in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. She later voted against impeaching Trump over the former president’s role in the insurrection.
On Wednesday, she welcomed his support for her leadership role.
“Thank you President Trump for your 100% support for House GOP Conference Chair. We are unified and focused on FIRING PELOSI & WINNING in 2022!,” she tweeted.
Stefanik’s political evolution came after she clashed with her own leadership earlier in her career. She got into a war of words with the House GOP campaign arm over her effort to promote female candidates in primaries.
When a party leader said it would be a mistake for her to get involved in primary races on behalf of female candidates, she tweeted, “NEWSFLASH… I wasn’t asking for permission.”
She played a key role in 2020 recruiting Republican women to run for Congress after their ranks were depleted by a disastrous 2018 election for her party, helping Republicans more than double the number of women in the House.
Much of her legislative work stems from her service on the Armed Services Committee, where she’s the ranking member of the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee. Stefanik was chairwoman of the subcommittee when Republicans controlled the House.
On the committee, she promotes Fort Drum, the largest employer in her district and the Kenneth A. Kesselring Naval Nuclear Reactor Site. She’s called for an East Coast missile-defense site to be built at Fort Drum. Stefanik is also a member of the Education and Labor Committee.
Earlier in her career, Stefanik broke from the Trump administration and Republican leaders from time to time. In 2019, she voted to overturn Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the southern border and to condemn the White House’s decision to ask a federal court to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
In 2017, she was among the 12 Republicans who voted against the Republican tax-cut law, which set a $10,000 cap on state and local deductions. Stefanik said the cap penalized taxpayers in high-tax states like New York.
“I’m proud to be in the top 10 percent of most bipartisan members of Congress,” Stefanik said in a candidate debate during her 2018 re-election campaign.
But when Trump was impeached the first time, Stefanik stepped up to defend him.
“This has been a partisan process from the start,” she told a New York television station in 2019. “From the witnesses I’ve heard from, I do not see impeachable offenses.”
Stefanik was born in upstate New York. When she was a child her parents started Premium Plywood Products, one of the area’s largest wholesale distributors of wood products. While working at the family plant, she says she learned that regulations can difficult for small businesses.
“It’s not that I graduated from Harvard that I’m most proud of, it’s that I graduated Harvard and stayed a Republican and a Yankee fan,” Stefanik told the Washington Free Beacon.
After graduation, Stefanik joined George W. Bush’s White House. From 2006 to 2009, she worked on the Domestic Policy Council and in the chief of staff’s office, where she focused on economic and domestic policy issues.
Stefanik worked on the 2012 presidential campaign of Republican Tim Pawlenty and served as director of debate preparation for Republican vice presidential nominee and former House speaker Paul Ryan, whom Stefanik considers to be her mentor.
In 2014, Stefanik won for the House seat of retiring Democratic Representative Bill Owens. She was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress when she won her seat at age 30 in 2014, a record that was broken by New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018.