Washington D.C., May 7, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).
Top House Republicans moved this week to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as head of the GOP conference, and are likely to replace her with the Trump-backed Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.).
Stefanik, in her fourth term representing upstate New York’s 21st district, could have an influential role as the third-ranking Republican in the House, especially if the party takes control of the chamber following the 2022 elections. Her ascendancy could also raise questions about her record on life and religious freedom issues.
One pro-life leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity as Stefanik has yet to enter her anticipated role, told CNA that Stefanik “has not been a leader” in the pro-life cause, adding “hopefully that will change.”
Cheney in January voted to impeach former President Donald Trump on charges that he incited the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. She initially held on to her leadership role after a vote in February, where some House Republicans sought to remove her for her impeachment support.
However, Cheney is not expected to remain in her role after a vote that will likely take place next week. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), have both backed Stefanik as a replacement for Cheney, as has Trump.
“Liz Cheney is a warmongering fool who has no business in Republican Party Leadership,” Trump said in a statement this week. “Elise Stefanik is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement for GOP Conference Chair. Elise is a tough and smart communicator!”
In a tweet thanking Trump for his endorsement, Stefanik wrote, “We are unified and focused on FIRING PELOSI & WINNING in 2022!”
Though she is allied with Trump politically, on matters of policy, Stefanik is less conservative than Cheney according to scorecards from some conservative and pro-life groups.
According to the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, for instance, Cheney has an “A+” rating from the group, while Stefanik has a “B” on her scorecard.
The group cited Stefanik’s support for the Equality Act of 2019, which some pro-life leaders have warned could create a “right” to an abortion.
Although Stefanik voted for the Equality Act of 2019, she did not vote for the 2021 version. Opponents of the bill–which would have redefined discrimination on the basis of “sex” to include “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition”–expressed concern that language could be interpreted to include abortion.
The act, known for its extending civil rights protections to sexual orientation and gender identity as classes, has also been criticized by Catholic leaders for establishing broad protections for the redefinition of marriage and transgenderism, without sufficient religious freedom protections.
Stefanik also voted for an appropriations bill that would have overturned the Trump administration’s expansion of the Mexico City Policy. The policy barred funding of international pro-abortion groups in U.S. global health assistance, and was later reversed by President Joe Biden. Although Stefanik voted for the bill on its final passage, she did support an earlier unsuccessful attempt to restore the pro-life policy to the legislation.
Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the lobbying arm of the nation’s largest abortion provider, gave Stefanik a 17% on its congressional scorecard, citing her support of the Equality Act and her voting in opposition to the Pregnant Women Health and Safety Act of 2015; that bill would have allowed states to exclude abortion providers from state Medicaid programs.
Cheney, meanwhile, has a 0% rating from Planned Parenthood Action.
Stefanik has also not yet joined a major House pro-life initiative this Congress: signing the discharge petition for the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. The act would require that babies surviving abortion attempts be given the requisite care that any newborn at that age would receive.
The petition, if it received a majority of signatures in the House (218), would force consideration of the legislation by the entire chamber, putting all members on the record of supporting or opposing the bill.
So far, 209 members – including seven members of New York’s delegation – have signed the petition. Stefanik has not.
In 2015, Stefanik was reportedly among a group of Republican female members who dissuaded party leadership from voting on a major pro-life bill on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
House GOP leaders had planned a vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act on Jan. 22, a bill which would ban abortions once an unborn child is determined to feel pain – around 20 weeks into pregnancy. The proposed bill contained exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is at stake, but required rape victims to report the rape to law enforcement. That requirement reportedly received some opposition among House Republicans.
Stefanik voted for a “Pain-Capable” bill later in May 2015, and again in 2017.
Cheney has refused to back down from criticizing Trump’s attempts to cast the 2020 election as illegitimate. McCarthy was caught on hot mic by Axios earlier this week saying “I’ve had it with her.”
Cheney appeared to accept her likely ouster in an opinion piece for the Washington Post published Wednesday, where she wrote that the Republican Party “is at a turning point.”
“Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution,” Cheney wrote, adding, “History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be.”
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