House Republicans on Friday elected Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, a vocal defender of former President Donald J. Trump, as their No. 3 leader, moving swiftly to replace Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who was deposed this week for her refusal to stay silent about the former president’s election lies.
The secret-ballot vote, which unfolded in a basement auditorium at the Capitol, was the culmination of a remarkable campaign by Republicans to purge a vocal critic of Mr. Trump from their ranks, solidifying his grasp on the party and cementing a litmus test for its leaders of unswerving loyalty to the former president.
Ms. Stefanik, 36, who campaigned as a pragmatic moderate when she was elected to Congress in 2014 and has sometimes crossed party lines to vote with Democrats, in recent years has become a strident ally of Mr. Trump. Republican leaders, citing her messaging discipline and fund-raising prowess, had effectively anointed her as Ms. Cheney’s successor even before the Wyoming Republican, a staunch conservative, was voted out of leadership on Wednesday.
On Friday, Ms. Stefanik beat out Representative Chip Roy of Texas, an arch-conservative who had framed his candidacy as a protest against what he called an ill-considered rush by House leaders to install a Republican who did not represent the party’s core values. But she defeated his challenge, by a vote of 134-46.
On the heels of House Republicans’ vote to force Ms. Cheney out of leadership for her refusal to stay quiet about Mr. Trump’s false narrative of a stolen election, Ms. Stefanik’s ascendancy offered a stark contrast. Unlike Ms. Cheney, she voted on Jan. 6 to invalidate electoral votes for President Biden, and in the months since has repeated several of Mr. Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud in the presidential election. She has also endorsed the Arizona election audit, a Republican-led endeavor that critics in both parties have described as a blow to democratic norms and a political embarrassment.
In her first public remarks after the election, Ms. Stefanik pledged to maintain a focus “on unity” as conference chair, and thanked Mr. Trump, who had endorsed her candidacy several times from Mar-a-Lago and cheered her victory in a statement moments after, calling him “a critical part of our Republican team.”
Asked if she believed Mr. Trump was the leader of the Republican Party, Ms. Stefanik said: “I believe that voters determine the leader of the Republican Party, and President Trump is the leader that they look to. I support President Trump, voters support President Trump; he is an important voice in our Republican Party.”
Ms. Cheney, who was embarking on something of a media tour in the wake of her ouster, pressing her concerns about Mr. Trump and her party’s continuing embrace of him, has criticized Republicans who perpetuate the falsehood that the election was illegitimate, noting that courts considered and rejected scores of challenges.
Ms. Stefanik had pledged to unite the conference as it tries to take back the majority in the 2022 midterm elections, and billed herself as a messenger who would not make comments that put members on the spot on issues like election integrity, as Ms. Cheney had.
“My focus is on unity, because that’s what the American people, and that’s what our voters, deserve,” she said on Friday.
Still, Ms. Stefanik has drawn some criticism from hard-right members of the conference who have questioned her conservative bona fides, noting that she had cast a number of votes in the early days of Mr. Trump’s presidency opposing key aspects of his agenda, including opposing his emergency declaration to build a wall at the southern border and voting against his signature 2017 tax cut bill.
In the closed-door meeting on Friday, Representative Ken Buck of Colorado, a member of the Freedom Caucus and a close ally of Ms. Cheney’s, landed a jab at Ms. Stefanik as he rose to nominate Mr. Roy for the post. Mr. Roy was a more suitable choice, Mr. Buck said, according to a person familiar with his remarks, since Republicans were not voting on which lawmaker was most likely to join “the Squad,” the high-profile foursome of congresswomen who are among the most liberal members of the House.