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What happened to Rep. Elise Stefanik?

I knew Rep. Elise Stefanik when she was a college student. And what I never saw coming was her decision to put herself on the fast track by becoming a truth-denying acolyte of Donald Trump.

Republicans Hold Virtual 2020 National Convention
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., a Trump loyalist, is poised to replace Trump critic Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wy., in House leadership. Trump wants Cheney dumped.
File photo courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — I knew Rep. Elise Stefanik when she was a college student. And what I never saw coming as I followed her career in Congress was her decision to put herself on the fast track by becoming a truth-denying acolyte of Donald Trump.

It’s all but done.

House Republicans will oust Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming from her leadership post, likely on Wednesday, for the offense of condemning Trump’s false claim the election was rigged against him.

As Cheney wrote in a Washington Post column last week, “Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this.”

Stefanik is poised to replace Cheney as House Conference Chair because she is choosing lies over truth.

On Sunday, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the GOP Whip — the top two Republicans in the House — endorsed her to be the new No. 3 leader. Trump is for Stefanik too, so the deal is baked.

Stefanik was elected to her first House term in 2014, when she was only 30.

I met Stefanik in the Spring of 2004, when she was an undergraduate student leader at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics and I was an IOP fellow.

She was independent minded. Wonky. Smart. Not known as an ideologue. Down to earth. Well liked. A networker.

After graduating Harvard in 2006, she went to the George W. Bush White House, where she worked on the Domestic Policy Staff.

Once in Congress, Stefanik carved out a niche as a moderate, even voting against Trump’s 2017 tax cut package. No one saw her as a conservative because she wasn’t one, especially compared to Cheney.

I saw the beginning of what turned out to be Stefanik’s swift conversion to sycophantic Trumpism at the 2019 House Intelligence Committee hearings on Trump’s first impeachment.

She became a breakout star because she embraced and promoted Trump’s call that the impeachment and Mueller probe was a “Russian hoax.” Millions of dollars poured into her campaign war chest.

I don’t know what motivates Stefanik. She certainly has the education to be able to figure out that Trump’s voter fraud and other claims are unproven.

This is not about political ideology or Stefanik’s right to speak her mind or even blatant opportunism.

It’s about getting ahead by perpetrating lies that are corrosive to our democracy.

She’s not the Elise Stefanik I knew.

Kinzinger: “Truth matters”

Meanwhile, on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the Illinois Republican who with Cheney is one of the few to stand up to Trump’s demands for fealty, likened Republicans to passengers on the sinking Titantic.

“We’re like, you know, in this in the middle of this slow sink, we have a band playing on the deck telling everybody it’s fine.”

Meanwhile, “Trump’s running around trying to find women’s clothing and get on the first lifeboat,” said Kinzinger.

Host John Dickerson noted that 70% of Republicans think the last election was stolen.

Said Kinzinger, “Truth matters. Right now — and we have to look and understand why — yes, 70% of the base believes that the election was stolen because they’ve been told it was.

“They’ve been told by the president of the United States. They’ve been told in many cases by Republican leaders or at least Republican leaders in the least have not countered it on something so vastly crazy as the election is stolen.

“You know, and — and this is why you have this real battle right now in the party, this idea of let’s just put our differences aside and be unified. You cannot unify truth with lies. The lie is that the election was stolen. The truth is Joe Biden beat Donald Trump.”

Illinois House Republicans and Cheney

Two Illinois House Republicans, Reps. Darin LaHood and Rodney Davis — both mentioned as possible 2024 candidates for governor or senator — seem to want to have this Cheney controversy disappear. Their offices have not responded to repeated inquiries, spread over several days about where they stand on Cheney.

Kinzinger will vote to keep Cheney in her No. 3 spot.

Freshman Rep. Mary Miller, a strong Trump backer, wants Cheney out. She said in a statement, Cheney “does not represent the Republican caucus and should not be part of our leadership team.”