It’s a potentially smart move, one that will allow her to steer clear of the career-ending chaos now engulfing the Republican Party. And yet she is also likely to struggle to win votes, underscoring how difficult it will be for her to rise in the party in its current form.
The upstate New York Republican declined to be interviewed this week about the speakers saga. When asked in the House hallway Tuesday if she plans to run for speaker, Stefanik said she had “no update.”
Her senior adviser, Alex DeGrasse, said she is “focused on unifying the House Republican Conference to elect the next House speaker.”
In an August interview with POLITICO, the 39-year-old lawmaker did not rule out one day pursuing the gavel. But the devoted ally of former President Donald Trump has so far shown no inclination to get swept up in the fight for speaker, as powerful men before her have fallen through trap doors in their pursuit of her job.
“It’s about resisting a lot of contrary temptations and just doing your job and doing it well,” said New York Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox. “That earns you a lot of respect, and silent respect is the currency of the kingdom in the House of Representatives.”
People familiar with her thinking point out that she is just getting comfortable in the position of conference president and doesn’t want her stature to diminish if she makes a serious bid for the speaker position and loses. The House GOP leadership has also been something of a meat grinder for women in recent years, with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers She decided not to run for re-election as conference president in 2019 and her successor in the number three position, former Representative Liz Cheney, was removed from office in 2021.
Stefanik was chosen to replace Cheney, a prominent Trump critic within the party.
No one doubts the ambition of Stefanik, who was elected to the House in 2014 as the youngest woman to win a seat in Congress at the time. And by biding her time during the speaker crisis, she is shirking what could be a thankless job with a short tenure.
Some see a strategic dimension to her positioning, with Stefanik, a political power broker in New York and DC, playing what amounts to a long-term game.
“She is in a safe seat. She demonstrated her ability to stay out of it for the long haul and I don’t think she regrets it, because who wants to be a spokesperson right now? said Republican political consultant Bill O’Reilly.
Stefanik has also stayed busy behind the scenes, gaining influence by presenting herself as someone for speaker candidates to cultivate.
“If I were a potential candidate for president, Elise Stefanik is the first person I would want on my side,” said former Rep. John Sweeney.
Stefanik interned for Sweeney, a New York Republican who represented parts of the Adirondacks and the Albany area from 1998 to 2006. Sweeney recalled that she was bright and ambitious as a high school student. She has also watched Stefanik’s evolution from a hard-working student at Harvard to a member of Paul Ryan’s staff and, finally, a staunch Trump supporter.
That transformation has turned Stefanik into a partisan lightning rod, with critics calling her a political contortionist, especially when it comes to her support for Trump. That has fueled some skepticism on the far right and open hostility on the left, and could potentially have undermined any effort to capture the presidency amid the House GOP civil war.
Sweeney sees his ability to transform politically as an advantage.
“She was a Paul Ryan person,” Sweeney said. “But in politics, especially when you come from a Democratic state like New York and not only survive but thrive, fluidity is not necessarily a pejorative term. “It’s not necessarily a negative thing.”
There is a belief in some quarters of the party that Stefanik could emerge as one of the Republican Party’s top fundraisers, having so far emerged unscathed from the battle for the presidency. She has already begun to play a critical role in helping vulnerable Republicans in the New York City suburbs win second terms, which would go a long way toward saving the party’s slim majority in the process.
New York is estimated to be home to a half-dozen battleground seats next year, and five are represented by first-term Republicans in Long Island, the Hudson Valley and central New York.
With so many pivotal seats in New York and a narrow House majority at stake, the importance of the Republican delegation has increased. During the battle for the presidency, Stefanik served as a sounding board for Republicans in his home state and, over the weekend, facilitated question-and-answer sessions between the presidential candidates and her fellow New York members.
“In a difficult circumstance, she stayed out of the race and put the conference, the party and the country ahead of other considerations,” the Republican representative said. Mike Lawlersaid a moderate from the northern suburbs of New York City.
Stefanik has already tapped into her considerable fundraising network for Republicans like Lawler, as well as first-term representatives. Antonio D’Esposito, Nick La Lota and Brandon Williams. Earlier this year, he announced a $100 million plan to support endangered first-termers. His stature could improve even more now that McCarthy, an unrivaled booster for the House GOP’s fundraising arm, is left without leadership.
All of this could pay big dividends in the future, whether in Washington or New York.
“Elise has provided in what has been a chaotic situation one of the few stabilizing centers of power,” said Gerard Kassar, chairman of the influential New York Conservative Party. “She is playing the role of bringing us back together. I suspect that in the end she will get a lot of recognition for a good job done and that will help her in the future.”
Anthony Adragna and Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.