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Rep. Elise Stefanik's Loyalty To Trump Is Likely To Be Rewarded

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

During former President Trump's first impeachment trial, New York Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik emerged as a star in Trump's eyes for rigorously defending him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: When she opens that mouth, you were killing them, Elise.

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: That loyalty is likely to be rewarded next week. House Republicans are planning to remove Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney from leadership for her ongoing criticism of Trump and his efforts to discredit the 2020 election and to replace her with Stefanik. To learn more about the New York congresswoman's rise to power, we're joined now by NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So how did Elise Stefanik get into politics in the first place?

DAVIS: Well, she was active in Republican politics right out of Harvard University. She worked in the George W. Bush administration as a domestic policy staffer and then went on to work for Mitt Romney's unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign. It was there that she became a really close friend and political ally of then Congressman Paul Ryan, who was, at the time, Romney's running mate. And when Romney lost, Ryan encouraged her to run for Congress, and she did. And she ended up winning a House seat in upstate New York in 2014. At the time, she was only 30 years old. She was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. And she really started her career as someone who was viewed within the party as a rising star.

CHANG: Right. But at the beginning of her career, she was viewed as kind of this relative moderate, right?

DAVIS: Yeah.

CHANG: And now she's seen as a top Trump ally. How did she evolve within the party?

DAVIS: I mean, I think she's evolved in part because her congressional district has evolved. When she won six years ago, she had won a seat that former President Barack Obama had carried twice. Today, it's firmly a Donald Trump district. He also carried it by double digits. And she sort of evolved along with her district.

She still has a moderate voting record. You know, she opposed things like the 2017 Trump tax cuts. But then the first impeachment trial came along, and she used her position on the House Intelligence Committee and really leaned into this role as a Trump defender, not just in the impeachment hearings, but at these press conferences, along with some of the folks who had been seen as some of Trump's closest allies, thinking of Republicans like Ohio's Jim Jordan. Trump loved it. Her district loved it. Donors loved it. You know, she raised $13 million ahead of the 2020 election...

CHANG: Wow.

DAVIS: ...Which had been nearly five times as much as she had ever raised before. And she really has never looked back since then.

CHANG: That said, does her moderate voting record give any of her Republican colleagues pause?

DAVIS: Not really because this fight just isn't about ideology. You know, Liz Cheney is a more conservative Republican than Elise Stefanik, but Stefanik is not going to criticize Trump or his ongoing efforts to discredit the 2020 election. You know, like most of her House Republican colleagues, she voted to object to electoral college results on January 6 after the Capitol had been raided. Cheney did not do that. She opposed the second impeachment. Cheney voted for it. And she, like many Republicans, believes Trump is key to winning control of the House in 2022, whereas Cheney has said she wants Trump to have no role in the party going forward at all.

CHANG: I'm curious, how much of a relationship do Stefanik and Cheney have?

DAVIS: Well, they used to be close. Not only did they have a relationship, Stefanik gave the nominating speeches in both 2018 and 2020 for Cheney...

CHANG: Wow.

DAVIS: ...To hold the leadership job that Stefanik is now trying to take from her.

CHANG: So how do you think this whole leadership shake-up will play out?

DAVIS: Well, it's all going to happen behind closed doors and as early as next week. If Cheney does not step down - and there's no indication that she will - Republicans will have to offer a motion to force a vote to remove her. Assuming that's successful, then they would then hold an election to replace her. As of right now, there's no one challenging Stefanik for the job.

CHANG: That is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thank you, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.