July 23rd, 2023
By Josh Christenson
Allegations mount that President Biden’s Justice Department interfered in the five-year investigation of his son while prepping indictments of his top political rival. House Republicans narrowly pass an annual defense spending bill and must reconcile a final version with the Senate.
A political action committee that boosts conservative women looks to widen Republicans’ House majority in the 2024 election.
These are just three of the issues Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) has on her mind in a typical day as GOP conference chairwoman, while juggling a host of constituent concerns — local and national — as she helps her caucus pursue both extensive federal oversight and its most ambitious legislative agenda in nearly a decade.
But the story of Stefanik’s rise from upstate “underdog” to the highest-ranking House GOP woman from New York ever has always been about balancing the needs of her sprawling rural district with a hard-nosed pursuit of government accountability.
The congresswoman and her staff have a word they like to use when discussing her approach: discipline.
“Every issue that comes across my desk as conference chair is very relevant to my district,” Stefanik told The Post during a wide-ranging interview in her office this week. “What makes mainstream media so frustrated with the way they cover me is, we are on top of the casework.”
As an example, she pointed to a bipartisan bill named in honor of her constituent Ernest Peltz, a World War II Navy veteran whose family would receive VA benefits they were owed the month that he passed — but were instead denied.
“I have the largest number of veterans out of any congressional district in New York State. … We process more VA claims casework than any other federal agency,” Stefanik added. “And we’re known as one of the most effective oversight offices on the committees on which I serve.”
She also pointed to her efforts to hold federal agencies like the FBI accountable, highlighting her positions on the House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government and the House Intelligence Committee.
Over the course of a day in July, The Post trailed Stefanik from Republican caucus meetings to office sit-downs with visitors from her district to votes on the House floor, discussing how her congressional work and campaign efforts with Elevate PAC (E-PAC for short) are seeking to implement the GOP conference’s “Commitment to America,” a package of bills promoting US energy independence, bolstering border security and reasserting parents’ rights in education.
The Democrat-controlled Senate has avoided taking up any of these bills, but that hasn’t stopped Stefanik from blasting Biden and members of his party for opposing policies that polls show have popular support.
With the exception of four members, House Democrats this month also voted against $886 billion in military spending through the National Defense Authorization Act, which included a pay bump for service members, provisions to cut funds for diversity initiatives and increased spending on deterrence efforts against Russia and China.
Stefanik was quick to point out that the vast majority — all but 27 Democrats — also voted against an amendment to the legislation that prohibits US funding or sanctions relief for the Afghan Taliban.
“They’re gonna have to defend that,” she said. “We will make sure the American people know how out of touch those members are, especially in those targeted districts.”
The communications effort, which includes a “daily drumbeat” of talking points sent from the chairwoman to GOP lawmakers, has proved a potent attack on the president’s approval numbers, she noted.
“We envisioned the crisis messaging,” Stefanik said. “You would see every day on TV, the words on the bottom use the word ‘crisis’ — the border crisis, the inflation crisis, the crime crisis.”
The Republican agenda has largely succeeded despite an early fight over the leadership of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), during which members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus secured promises of key committee placements and fiscally and socially conservative priorities.
But Stefanik believes none of those concessions have threatened her ability to unify Republicans.
“I have a great working relationship with all corners of the conference, with the House Freedom Caucus,” she said, shouting out founding member and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). “I’m a member of the Republican Study Committee as well as the Republican Governance Group.”
The Harvard graduate’s broad support has also helped her advise candidates and party officials how to win tough races and recruit women through her PAC to run for office. The day Stefanik met with The Post, she also strategized with Ohio Republican Senate candidate Bernie Moreno.
“I’m the only one in leadership who’s flipped a district,” she said. “A lot of candidates reach out.”
“They’re coming over from the Senate,” a member of her staff emphasized. “They’ve maybe met with [Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell, and they’re coming here.”
At a fundraising event later the same day, Stefanik stood before half a dozen House Republican women supported by E-PAC, which she founded in 2018. Among them were Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, Jen Kiggans of Virginia and Lori Chavez-DeRemer of Oregon, all of whom flipped seats last cycle.
“When I was first elected in 2014, a lot of people didn’t think that I could win a primary and flip the district,” Stefanik told attendees. “We now win that district by about 20 points every single cycle. And I believe that it’s so important to invest in strong conservative women.”
Stefanik has helped raise more than $2 million total for E-PAC in the past two election cycles, according to the money-in-politics tracker OpenSecrets.com. Her own campaign also raised $2 million in the second quarter of 2023 alone, federal election filings show.
Given Stefanik’s determination and demanding schedule, it comes as a surprise when she says she didn’t want to replace then-Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as conference chairwoman in May 2021.
“That was not something that I sought out,” she said, adding that former chairwoman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) set an example that convinced her otherwise.
Rodgers was raising three young children when she served in House leadership, according to Stefanik, which gave her “the confidence to run for conference chair when pregnant with Sam,” her firstborn son.
The conference chair vote was a foregone conclusion, however, after former President Donald Trump endorsed her — something clearly not lost on Stefanik as she remains one of the Republican presidential frontrunner’s most ardent supporters in Congress.
“I talk to President Trump on a regular basis — weekly,” she added. “He answers my phone calls directly. I don’t call through anybody.”
Recent conversations have focused on a looming indictment of the former president by special counsel Jack Smith, who informed Trump in a target letter last week that he was being investigated for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Stefanik — the only member of House Republican leadership to have endorsed Trump for 2024 — frequently peppers her statements with the frontrunner’s language, referring to the apparent indictment as an “illegal and un-American witch hunt.”
But asked whether she has discussed being Trump’s running mate next year, Stefanik demurs.
“I’ve not had conversations with President Trump directly about that,” she said. “I’m focused on doing my job.”
Read the full story from the New York Post here.