Will Elise Stefanik Correct Her Course on Immigration?

Following a protracted battle with fellow House Republicans and an acrimonious split with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) is set to lose her position as the chair of the House Republican Conference, the third highest position in leadership below the whip and party leader. Within days, House Republicans made her likely replacement crystal clear: Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.)

Rep. Stefanik was first elected in 2014 and was, at the time, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. She represents the 21st Congressional District of New York, a mostly rural district that takes up most of the northeastern part of the state. The 21st district is notable for having supported former President Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 elections before becoming solidly Republican. Voters re-elected Stefanik in 2020 with 58.8 percent of the vote, and the district’s Cook PVI rating is R+8. 

Democrats and the mainstream media largely attribute Cheney’s fall from grace to her vocal and continued criticism of former President Donald Trump following the events of January 6th. She previously survived a vote to remove her from Republican leadership in February, with the support of McCarthy. However, Republican insiders note that many members – including those who voted to impeach Trump – are fed up with Cheney’s leadership, or lack thereof. Conservative columnist Byron York noted in his Daily Memo that:

“It came to a boiling point a week and a half ago at our retreat [in Florida] when she’s doing a press conference and she’s still talking about January 6 and Donald Trump when we’re all talking about unifying to defeat Pelosi’s socialist agenda and win the House back,” said one Republican. “At that point it became clear she’s just not interested in working with the rest of us on a shared goal.” Rank-and-file members can do whatever they want, Republicans say, but members of the leadership should at least publicly be on the same page.

Regardless, Cheney is out and Stefanik is allegedly in. Unlike Cheney, Stefanik supported Trump, voted against his impeachment, and voted against certifying the election results from Pennsylvania for the 2020 presidential election. But while she may come off as a Trumpist, America-First Republican, she is anything but.

Immigration is a key example. In FAIR’s 116th Congress Voting Report, Rep. Stefanik voted with FAIR only 75 percent of the time – on the lower end of House Republicans she may lead. Cheney, on the other hand, voted with FAIR 100 percent of the time. Another group aligned with FAIR on the immigration issue, NumbersUSA, grades Stefanik as a career C-, with a D- this Congress.

It isn’t that Stefanik has been uninterested in the immigration issue, it’s that she’s been plainly bad on it. She voted in favor of illegal alien farmworker amnesty twice. She voted in favor of the FAIR-opposed “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act,” which eliminates per-country caps and ensures that all future immigration to the United States comes only from India and China.

She opposed President Trump’s travel bans and voted against the national emergency declaration allowing the construction of the border wall. She signed a discharge petition to give DACA recipients a pathway to citizenship and has been a vocal and enthusiastic supporter of importing cheap, foreign guestworkers into the United States even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when millions of Americans were jobless.

This was all as a rank-and-file member without a leadership role. But to be in leadership in the Republican party means that you have to respond to the beliefs and convictions of the people you lead. That includes both Republican House members but also the voters who send these people to Washington in the first place.

Republican voters do not support replacing American workers with cheaper guestworkers. Republican voters do not support mass amnesty for illegal aliens. Republican voters support building the wall and ending the crisis on our southern border.

Stefanik needs to grasp this if she is going to be a successful Republican Conference chair. Having the support of former President Trump cannot and should not be the only prerequisite for House leadership. Stefanik will need to actually lead by embracing the principles that animate most of the House Republican membership.

For all her faults, Cheney was strong on the issue of immigration. As immigration remains a principal issue impacting House Republicans and their voters, Stefanik will need to embrace the mantle of a true “America First” immigration agenda. FAIR is here to help.

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