ALBANY (TNS) — In six months as GOP conference leader, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik has used her microphone to broadcast a message of a nation in crisis, crafting party talking points designed to propel Republicans to the majority and keep her own star rising.
As No. 3 in House Republican party leadership, her cry of calamity often coincides with a call for campaign contributions, as the prolific fundraiser continues to rake in cash for her reelection bid and party coffers.
Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, and former President Donald J. Trump will team up in January at Mar-a-Lago for their third fundraiser since Trump helped Stefanik cruise into leadership, the New York Post reported.
On a telephone town hall this month aimed at raising $30,000, Stefanik blasted Democratic leadership in the White House, Congress and New York. She decried the growing inflation, Democratic spending, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and mandates from Gov. Kathy Hochul.
"I am honored to serve as the House Republican Conference chair to make sure we have a unified conservative voice that we're focused on saving the country and winning back the House next November," she said. "I feel that momentum is on our side, but we cannot take it for granted."
Stefanik declined to answer questions for this article about her leadership role and legislative work.
So far, her work as chair has won public kudos and seemingly few private gripes among Republicans.
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-Staten Island, said: "Elise is a great conference chair, and it's good for New York to have her in leadership. She's rightly focused messaging on exposing the flaws of [President Joe] Biden's economic, energy, border and public safety crises."
Retiring Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, called her "effective in promoting and furthering our agenda of freedom and opportunity for every American."
Republican aides, speaking anonymously to candidly describe her behind-the-scenes work as GOP conference chair, described her as a "workhorse," "there to help," and "always maneuvering," as her team regularly blasts a plethora of talking points via email to House Republicans so the caucus can respond with one message on the issue of the day. One aide noted her keen ability to offer help to other members in a way that also delivers a political benefit to herself, in furtherance of her own ambitions.
"I would assume her goal is to continue to climb the GOP leadership hierarchy," said Gbemende Johnson, associate professor of government at Hamilton College. "She appears well-positioned to do so," Johnson added, noting her loyalty to de facto Republican Party leader Trump, her sharp criticism of Democrats, promotion of Republican women in Congress and fundraising work.
Stefanik pledged to serve as GOP conference chair for one term. But, there is speculation in Congress that she may abandon that pledge to remain chair. Or she may seek to lead the Education and Labor Committee, sources said, or even toss her name in for majority whip should Republicans win control of the House in 2022.
Eleven months before Election Day, Stefanik has five Democrats — Matt Castelli, Bridie Farrell, Matt Putorti, Keith Sherrill and Ezra Watson — and one Republican, Lonny Koons, hoping to unseat her in 2022. New York is working to complete redistricting, meaning Stefanik's district could change. As it's currently drawn, the district is solidly Republican, according to election experts.
"The geography of her district is such that it would be very difficult for the Legislature to district her out of it," explained Clifford Brown, professor of government at Union College. "It is difficult to envision that they would be drawn in a way to affect her basic circumstances ... she will be representing a similar constituency to that which she now represents."
Her relatively safe seat can permit Stefanik to focus more attention outside the district, on party issues, competitive races and fundraising. To date this cycle, she's hauled in $4.4 million through her campaign committee, political action committee that boosts Republican women and joint fundraising committee.
That's shy of the sums that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise have raised to date and the haul of headline-grabbing U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. So far, it's also short of the the record-setting $14.8 million she raised across her three committees in the 2020 cycle, when Stefanik skyrocketed to national attention during the first impeachment of Trump.
Stefanik was elected GOP conference chair in May after the party ousted Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., from the job. Cheney voted to impeach Trump for his role in sparking the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Later, Cheney criticized Trump and other Republicans for perpetuating falsehoods that the 2020 election was "stolen" from Trump. Courts and election audits have repeatedly found that Biden was the uncontested winner. Cheney's outspoken criticism of members of her party fueled her removal.
Stefanik was once a moderate who opposed Trump's signature tax legislation. But when she threw her name in for the conference chair job, she was strongly endorsed by Trump. She had sided with Trump at key, controversial junctures, but also hasn't publicly called out other members who voted differently.
On Jan. 6, after the attack on the Capitol, Stefanik voted against certifying the election results in one state, registering what she said were "concerns" about election "irregularities." One week later, she voted against impeaching Trump over his Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally and the Capitol insurrection (she opposed his impeachment in 2019, too, and served on his defense team).
Johnson said the response to these election issues may have ongoing ramifications in 2022 and beyond.
"What that put in place was the groundwork or roadmap to subsequent challenges to elections," Johnson said. "There was not evidence of widespread irregularities for that election, but you saw a substantial number of Republican members of Congress who were either willing to state that there were or vote not to recognize the electoral results from a number of states. It's disconcerting if you think about it in terms of integrity of democratic principles and institutions."
After Biden took office, Stefanik, along with many other Republicans, opposed the two most-notable laws passed this year: another federal COVID-19 stimulus bill called the American Rescue Plan, and a bipartisan infrastructure package signed into law this fall. Stefanik opposed the American Rescue Plan, which gave families with children new monthly payments, funded rent and mortgage relief and gave states additional funds, because she said it gave money to unemployment, disincentivizing people to work, and did not require schools to operate in-person. She opposed a bipartisan infrastructure bill that allocated billions of dollars for roads, bridges, and utility grids because of its electric vehicle provisions and broadband requirements, she said.
Stefanik voted to pass the $768 billion annual defense policy bill.
As the pandemic continues to infect, sicken and kill Americans across the country and in New York, Stefanik vocally opposed rules requiring people show proof of vaccination in some workplaces and public spaces.
"While we support vaccines and we worked to deliver the fastest vaccine in history, I don't support mandates," Stefanik said last week.
Also this year, Stefanik and her husband Matthew Manda welcomed their first child into their family, a baby boy named Sam.