House Republican leaders moved quickly on Wednesday to expel Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming from her leadership post for criticizing Donald J. Trump and his election lies, as their No. 2, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, publicly backed ousting her and the top leader privately lobbied for a replacement.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Mr. Scalise said he supported Representative Elise Stefanik, the New York Republican who has emerged as the leading contender to replace Ms. Cheney as Republican Conference chair, the No. 3 leadership position. Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, was less public, but lawmakers said he was pushing colleagues privately to support Ms. Stefanik, a close ally.
“House Republicans need to be solely focused on taking back the House in 2022 and fighting against Speaker Pelosi and President Biden’s radical socialist agenda,” said Lauren Fine, Mr. Scalise’s spokeswoman. “Elise Stefanik is strongly committed to doing that, which is why Whip Scalise has pledged to support her for conference chair.”
It was a remarkable show of force by the party’s top two leaders to run out a once-popular figure now deemed unacceptable by fellow Republicans because she has rejected Mr. Trump’s lies and refused to absolve him or the party of its role in perpetuating the false claims of a fraudulent election that fueled the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
The fate of Ms. Cheney, who survived a February bid to oust her after she voted to favor of impeaching Mr. Trump for his role in stirring up the riot, has once again become a bellwether for the direction of the Republican Party. It has implications for Republicans’ chances of wresting control of the House in 2022, and has become a test of whether loyalty to Trump and a tolerance for misinformation have overtaken conservatism as the party’s guiding orthodoxy.
Jeremy Adler, a spokesman for Ms. Cheney, signaled Wednesday morning that she was gearing up for a messy fight, the significance of which would reach far beyond a narrow personnel question.
“Liz will have more to say in the coming days,” he said. “This moment is about much more than a House leadership fight.”
The turmoil could come to a head as early as next week, when House Republicans are expected to meet and could call a vote to replace Ms. Cheney.
Eager to assert his primacy in the battle, Mr. Trump weighed in on Wednesday with a statement attacking Ms. Cheney as a “warmonger” and insisting falsely that the 2020 election was fraudulent. He criticized Mike Pence, his former vice president, for failing to throw out the results on Jan. 6, and savaged Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, who he called “gutless and clueless,” for refusing to join an effort to invalidate Mr. Biden’s victory.
Ms. Stefanik, 36, whose voting record is far less conservative than Ms. Cheney’s, became a vocal supporter of Mr. Trump in recent years, playing a prominent role defending him during his first impeachment trial and voting in January to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost.
Ms. Stefanik once styled herself as an establishment Republican in a similar vein to Ms. Cheney. She worked in former President George W. Bush’s administration and for former House Speaker Paul Ryan when he was the 2012 vice-presidential nominee, before becoming the youngest woman elected to the House at the time. But as Mr. Trump ascended, she quickly refashioned herself as one of his most strident loyalists.
Mr. Scalise’s endorsement comes as Ms. Stefanik and her allies have ramped up their efforts to win support. In recent days, she has quietly reached out to Republicans to gauge their interest in supporting her for the No. 3 position, according to people familiar with the private discussions, and lawmakers close to her have begun to publicly express confidence that she will win the leadership spot.
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