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Stefanik emphasizes support for false election claims, Trump movement ahead of leadership vote

During President Donald Trump's 2019 impeachment hearing, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said the inquiry was not about his tweets. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Rep. Elise Stefanik on Thursday emphasized her support for former president Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen through voter fraud as she seeks to lock down support to replace Rep. Liz Cheney as the third-ranking House Republican.

Stefanik (N.Y.) appeared Thursday morning on the podcast of former Trump campaign and White House aide Stephen K. Bannon, where she sought to make the case that she is a reliable supporter of Trump and devoted to his brand of nationalist populism, distancing herself from her ties to the old establishment wing of the party and her moderate voting record in Congress.

Trump and many of his allies have rallied around Stefanik to succeed Cheney as chair of the House GOP Conference after the Wyoming Republican made clear she would continue to publicly challenge Trump’s false claims about the election and place blame on him for the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters.

From Paul Ryan acolyte to Trump disciple: Elise Stefanik sets out to replace Liz Cheney in GOP leadership

Appearing on Bannon’s show less than a week before Republicans are expected to vote Cheney out, Stefanik sought to cement her place in leadership by giving credence to unfounded theories about election fraud, including in Arizona.

The Fix’s Aaron Blake breaks down the growing momentum among House Republicans to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from leadership and what it means for the party. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

“I fully support the audit in Arizona,” she said. “We want transparency and answers for the American people. What are the Democrats so afraid of?”

The GOP-held state Senate in Arizona is reviewing the 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County in an effort to prove election malfeasance, though previous audits in the state have found no wrongdoing. The largely partisan exercise has enraged Democrats who see it as one more attempt to undercut faith in the democratic process.

Stefanik also said that the problem with elections is widespread.

“We need to fix these election security issues going into the future,” she said. “And it’s not just Arizona.”

During her interview, Stefanik echoed many of the GOP talking points about alleged election fraud, claiming that “in many cases, there was no signature verification process.” She also said she heard from voters in her district “who did not receive their mail-in ballot when they applied for one and I even heard from voters who received the wrong mail-in ballots.”

There is no evidence that any irregularities in mail-in ballots would have changed the results of the election in any state, including New York, where Joe Biden beat Trump 60 percent to 37 percent.

Election results under attack: Here are the facts

Stefanik, first elected in 2014, was viewed as one of the more moderate House Republicans and she kept her distance from Trump early in his presidency. She was the co-chair of the moderate GOP Tuesday Group with then-Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and backed former Ohio governor John Kasich for president in 2016.

With Trump in the White House, Stefanik voted against some of his policy proposals, including the 2017 tax cuts because she said the limits on local and state tax deductions would hurt her constituents.

But she emerged as a strong ally during his first impeachment trial in 2019, serving as a leading defender of his actions toward Ukraine, which were the subject of Democrats’ attempt to remove the president from office. Since that time she has worked to present herself as a strong Trump supporter and spoke at the 2020 Republican convention.

Elise Stefanik emerges in impeachment hearings as key Trump defender — and GOP celebrity

She has backed Trump’s false claims about the election since he first started making them after his defeat to Biden. It’s that record she is highlighting now as a contrast to Cheney, who expects to lose her job for arguing that backing the president’s falsehoods amounts to an attack on democracy.

In an opinion piece published in the Albany Times-Union on the morning of Jan. 6, when Congress met to certify the election results, she made several arguments supported by Trump but without evidence to justify her plan to contest the election results in several states.

With regard to Georgia, Stefanik claimed that “more than 140,000 votes came from underage, deceased, and otherwise unauthorized voters — in Fulton County alone.”

Just 525,000 votes were cast in the presidential election in Atlanta-based Fulton County, so for that to be true, it would mean more than 1 in 4 ballots there were illegal. There is no evidence of anything close to that.

On Thursday, Stefanik’s office defended the opinion piece.

“The number came from litigation that was ongoing at the time,” Stefanik spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said in an email to The Washington Post. “To this day, there are still serious concerns about the election that have not been addressed.”

The number was cited in an emergency appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, which denied it. The appeal referred to about 141,000 suspect votes in all of Georgia, not just Fulton County.

Stefanik also has embraced Trump supporters’ rallying points such as “cancel culture,” the amorphous argument that conservatives lose their jobs or audiences if they upset “woke” liberals. Several Democrats have been quick to point out that House Republicans are preparing to “cancel” Cheney for speaking her mind.

Fact Checker: Stefanik defends election falsehoods told on Jan. 6

Harvard University, Stefanik’s alma mater, removed her from an advisory board position at its Institute of Politics in January because of her “public assertions about voter fraud in November’s presidential election that have no basis in evidence.”

She told Bannon that her removal “was a part of cancel culture.”

Stefanik also claimed that “Big Tech” was silencing conservatives, after Twitter temporarily suspended Leavitt’s account Thursday, a move the company says was made in error.

“Twitter just suspended my Communications Director. An unconstitutional overreach SILENCING our voices and freedom of speech,” Stefanik tweeted. “Republicans are united in fighting back against Big Tech’s tyranny. Millions of Americans will not be silenced!”

In her interview with Bannon she also talked about “Trump derangement syndrome” to describe his critics and the “Russia hoax” in reference to the investigation into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election.

While Stefanik is the favorite to replace Cheney — she has the support of Trump and House Republican leaders — her moderate record has raised concerns for some conservative members.

“She voted against funding the [border] wall, she actually voted to condemn President Trump for the Affordable Care Act litigation strategy last year,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) said during a local radio interview Thursday. “These are all things that I think indicate someone who is not in step with the general views of the Republican conference.”

Republicans prepare to oust Cheney from leadership and install Stefanik as party purges Trump critics

But Bannon came to her defense, urging his listeners to worry less about where she started and focus on where she has arrived.

“For the MAGA movement . . . look at the journey of Elise Stefanik, this is what’s important,” he said. “You’re now getting the highest quality Ivy League-educated people who start off in the heart of the establishment, that because of the reality of where America is and how you have to turn America around with working-class people,” he said. “You got to look at the journey.”

Aaron Blake and John Wagner contributed to this report.