House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California on Sunday publicly endorsed Rep. Elise Stefanik for the post of No. 3 leader, cementing party leadership against Rep. Liz Cheney, an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump.
House Republicans could vote as early as Wednesday to remove Ms. Cheney, the highest-ranking woman in the party leadership and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and replace her with Ms. Stefanik, a New York Republican whose bid has Mr. Trump’s backing.
Asked on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures” whether he supported Ms. Stefanik for the job of Republican Conference chair, Mr. McCarthy responded: “Yes, I do.”
“We want to be united in moving forward, and I think that is what will take place,” he said in response to a question about whether he had the votes to oust Ms. Cheney, who represents Wyoming in the House.
Mr. McCarthy said the leadership post must focus on a message “day in and day out” on the problems of the Biden administration.
Ms. Cheney has taken on Republicans, including Mr. McCarthy in saying those who indulge Mr. Trump’s claims of a stolen presidential election are “spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.”
In an opinion essay Wednesday in The Washington Post, she denounced the “dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality,” and warned her fellow Republicans against embracing or ignoring his statements “for fundraising and political purposes.”
She also said Mr. McCarthy had “changed his story” after initially saying Trump “bears responsibility” for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Mr. McCarthy initially criticized Mr. Trump’s actions, and in a private call during the riot, had urged the then-president to call off the mob. The GOP leader now says he does not believe Mr. Trump provoked the assault.
Mr. McCarthy on Sunday denied that Republicans’ effort to remove Ms. Cheney was based on her views of Mr. Trump or on being one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Mr. Trump over the Jan. 6 riot.
He said she was distracting from Republicans’ bid to win back the House in 2022 and successfully oppose President Biden’s agenda, goals that Mr. McCarthy says will need Trump’s support.
Mr. McCarthy complained in a “hot mic” moment last week that he had “lost confidence” in Ms. Cheney and “had it with her” over her continuing remarks about Mr. Trump, according to a leaked recording of his exchange on “Fox and Friends.”
Ms. Cheney actually has a more conservative voting record in the House than Ms. Stefanik, a onetime Trump critic who evolved into an ardent ally.
“You have this real battle right now in the party, this idea of let’s just put our differences aside and be unified,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican and another party member who voted to impeach Mr. Trump.
“They’re going to get rid of Liz Cheney because they’d much rather pretend that the conspiracy is either real or not confront it than to actually confront it and maybe have to take the temporary licks to save this party and in the long term this country,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
The second-ranking House Republican leader, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, already had announced his support for Ms. Stefanik.
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