Conservative Rep. Chip Roy launched a last-minute challenge to Rep. Elise Stefanik, the choice of former President Donald Trump and GOP leaders to replace Rep. Liz Cheney as the third-ranking Republican in the House.
In doing so, he angered Mr. Trump and likely gaining nothing for sticking his neck out.
As lawmakers left a nearly two-hour GOP conference meeting Thursday evening, where the two candidates made their pitches to colleagues, Ms. Stefanik expressed confidence she will win when the conference votes Friday morning.
Ms. Stefanik is the clear choice of party leaders, having the support of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Minority Whip Steve Scalise and the former president.
Mr. Trump denounced Mr. Roy, who announced at the last minute he would challenge Ms. Stefanik because she is a moderate.
“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,” he said in a statement. “I support Elise, by far, over Chip!”
Mr. Roy, Texas Republican and a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said he saw no reason for the caucus to fill in the position quickly after Ms. Cheney was ousted by her colleagues on Wednesday.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Georgia Republican, said she agreed but would not say whom she would support.
Mr. Roy said only that ”it’s up to the conference,” when asked about his chances as he left the meeting.
The GOP members ejected Ms. Cheney from the post of Republican Conference chair because of her continued criticism of Mr. Trump and his unsubstantiated claim that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election.
Mr. McCarthy, California Republican, said he was not upset that Mr. Roy entered the race.
“Competition is great,” he said as he walked into the meeting.
With a letter to colleagues Tuesday, Mr. Roy was the first to question publicly the rush to give Ms. Stefanik the job.
“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,” he wrote.
Several other conservative House members, including Freedom Caucus member Ken Buck of Colorado, raised alarms about Ms. Stefanik’s voting record, including her vote against the 2017 tax cuts.
“I like Elise. But it’s not just one issue. You can track her voting record across, 10, 15, 20 votes,” Mr. Roy said earlier in the day.
Mr. Roy had said he didn’t want to see Ms. Stefanik win the post without any challengers. He had said earlier in the day that he was talking to others about running but found no takers.
Ms. Stefanik, though, has said she has enough support from a wide range of Republicans to win. She spoke to the Freedom Caucus on Wednesday to allay its members’ concerns.
Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, a Pennsylvania Republican who has been counting votes on behalf of Ms. Stefanik, said he was less concerned about Ms. Stefanik’s voting ideology than her ability to help Republicans recapture the House. Ms. Cheney was widely viewed as a distraction from that cause.
Ms. Stefanik had won in a swing district in upstate New York, Mr. Reschenthaler said.
“She came from a district that went from Democrat to Republican. That says a lot because it’s just not somebody who’s from a deep red district she knows how to. She knows how to be a congresswoman from both a red district and a swing district which is important if we’re going to retake the House,” Mr. Reschenthaler said, echoing a similar argument Mr. Trump had made in his initial endorsement.