WASHINGTON — Rep. Elise M. Stefanik was inaugurated as the House Republican Conference chairperson earlier this month, a position she says will give her the opportunity to advocate for the real concerns she’s heard from her constituents and voters across the country.
As the third-most senior member of House Republican leadership, the House Republican Conference chairperson is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the conference, which is responsible for communicating the party’s message to its congressional members. In this position, Rep. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, said she has the capacity to advocate for her constituents more effectively than ever before.
“My priority is always making sure that the people of New York’s 21st Congressional District have a seat at the table at the highest levels, and this helps meet that priority and absolutely allows me to advocate very effectively for my constituents,” she said in an interview Thursday.
The district-specific issues Rep. Stefanik is focused on haven’t changed from her re-election last year. She said she’s still focused on advocating for the military and Fort Drum, ensuring troops are ready and able to complete any mission they may be tasked with and that military families are supported.
For small businesses, Rep. Stefanik said concerns over the economy and the ongoing labor shortage have been reflected across the country, and she is now able to highlight those issues nationally and encourage Republicans to consider solutions.
“The same is true with issues related to the northern border,” she said. “We’re raising the profile of that issue, which is a very bipartisan issue, about the need for a consistent and coherent reopening plan from both the Biden administration and the Canadian government.”
Rep. Stefanik said she hadn’t initially anticipated that she would get the opportunity to run for Republican House Conference chairperson. The last member of Congress to hold the conference chair position was Rep. Elizabeth L. “Liz” Cheney, R-Wyo., who lost the confidence of her fellow House Republicans because of her continuous criticism of former President Donald J. Trump and his claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent.
Rep. Stefanik said she saw that message was not working for the Republican membership and was not in line with the Republican Party as it stands today.
“It became increasingly clear that the previous conference chair was not representative of the members of the Republican conference,” she said. “It became clear that members were going to make a change. I decided, if the position opened, I would put my name forward.”
In a vote May 12, Republican members of Congress voted to remove Rep. Cheney from her leadership position. Two days later, on May 14, they voted to install Rep. Stefanik in her place, although it wasn’t without contention.
It was clear Rep. Cheney would be removed from her post for some time before the vote was held, and Rep. Stefanik had begun to pull together support in the days leading up to the leadership vote. Some conservatives in the House began to express concern that Rep. Stefanik’s voting record was not conservative enough. Media reports indicated many members found her record of bipartisanship lacking when compared to the staunchly conservative record of Rep. Cheney.
Heritage Action, a political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, gives Rep. Stefanik a 48% lifetime score, indicating she has voted along conservative lines less than half of her time in Congress. Rep. Cheney, on the other hand, has an 80% lifetime score from Heritage Action.
Despite the concerns of conservatives, and with Rep. Charles E. “Chip” Roy, R-Texas, also putting his name in the running, Rep. Stefanik won the leadership vote 134-46.
“The vote was overwhelming, and I had strong support from our Republican membership,” Rep. Stefanik said, explaining that she believes she represents a Republican Party that has expanded its base.
She pointed out that she is the only member of current House Republican leadership to represent a district that flipped from supporting former President Barack H. Obama in 2008 and 2012 to supporting former President Trump in 2016 and 2020. Rep. Stefanik also pointed out that she flipped the district from having a Democrat representing it in Congress when she was first elected in 2014.
“My district tells the story of today’s Republican Party,” Rep. Stefanik said. “It’s one of the swingy-est districts in the nation, and really demonstrates how the Republican Party has expanded their base among the working class.”
She’s also the youngest woman to hold the position of conference chair for either party in Washington, and the first New York Republican to hold a leadership seat in Congress since former Rep. Jack F. Kemp, who represented part of suburban Buffalo and served as House Republican Conference chairperson in the 1980s.
Despite the concerns of some of her colleagues, Rep. Stefanik said she plans to stick with her bipartisan record and will continue to look for ways to work with Democrats to achieve results.
In her work as GOP conference chair specifically, Rep. Stefanik said she has a three-pronged platform.
She said it’s important that House Republicans maintain a clear, unified message on the important issues. In a letter to House Republican members on May 12 asking for their support, Rep. Stefanik said “the media and Socialist Democrats” are working to divide Republicans and discount their positions, and the party must be disciplined to push back against the policies of President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Speaker of the House Nancy P. Pelosi, D-Calif.
“There can be various controversies of the day, but in reality when I talk to voters in my district, and when I talk to my colleagues, a lot of the key concerns are the same,” she said.
Those issues are largely economic, Rep. Stefanik said, including rising energy prices and the ongoing labor shortage, but voters’ concerns also touch on security issues, like the Middle East or the southern border.
Additionally, Rep. Stefanik said she has ensured that representatives have the information they need to speak effectively on the Republican platform.
“This week is the first week of district work since my election as conference chair, and we’re making sure every member has information, policy briefings from all the various committees, so they have that material to share with constituents as they’re doing events in their districts,” she said.
Finally, Rep. Stefanik said she wants to boost the profiles of rank-and-file Republicans in Congress. In her letter last month, she said House Republicans need to shine a spotlight on individual members of Congress, highlight their ideas and present a more varied view of the Republican Party as a whole.
“It’s not just about the elected Republican members of leadership, every member of Congress has an amazing story, and a lot of times those stories are not told in the media,” Rep. Stefanik said. “Whether it’s the glass-ceiling-shattering Class of 2020 with a historic number of Republican women, each of whom have incredible stories, or whether it’s some of our former law enforcement officers.”
When Rep. Stefanik took the leadership role, media reports circulated that suggested she only intended to remain in the position until 2022, at which point she would seek a chair position on the House Education and Labor Committee.
Rep. Stefanik did not definitively say whether she plans to run for a leadership role again after the next election cycle, saying instead that she will wait to judge the situation when the time comes.
“Our hope is that we will win back the majority in Congress, which I think we’re in a good position to do next November as Republicans. I will reassess at that time,” she said. “I think it’s important not to assume two elections ahead of time. I will make a decision every two years, just like I do in this district when I file to run for re-election.”