The second-highest ranking Republican in the House publicly called for the removal of GOP conference chair Liz Cheney, who has repeatedly criticized former President Trump for spreading falsehoods about the 2020 election and seeking to downplay the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters.
Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana will back New York Representative Elise Stefanik to replace Cheney, his spokesperson said.
"House Republicans need to be solely focused on taking back the House in 2022 and fighting against Speaker Pelosi and President Biden's radical socialist agenda, and Elise Stefanik is strongly committed to doing that, which is why Whip Scalise has pledged to support her for Conference Chair," Lauren Fine, Scalise's communications director, said in a statement to CBS News.
The statement is the first explicit call from GOP House leadership for Cheney's removal, although Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday that House Republicans were losing confidence in the current conference chair.
"I have heard from members concerned about her ability to carry out the job as conference chair, to carry out the message," McCarthy said in an interview with "Fox & Friends" on Tuesday. Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Mr. Trump on a charge of incitement of insurrection in January. She fended off an effort by some conservatives to oust her from her leadership position in early February, with support from McCarthy.
Cheney has repeatedly pushed back against Mr. Trump's false claim that the election was stolen. Cheney said Monday that Republicans could not accept the "poison" of this claim or "whitewash" the January 6 attack by Mr. Trump's supporters, CNN reported.
"We can't embrace the notion the election is stolen. It's a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy," Cheney said in remarks at a conference in Georgia. "We can't whitewash what happened on January 6 or perpetuate Trump's big lie. It is a threat to democracy. What he did on January 6 is a line that cannot be crossed."
Cheney is the highest ranking woman in Republican leadership, so replacing her with Stefanik would seek to sidestep the negative optics of pushing out a woman from her position. Stefanik, who is 36, is seen as a rising star in the party, in large part because of her vocal support for Mr. Trump and her efforts to recruit Republican women as candidates.
Stefanik emerged as one of Mr. Trump's staunchest supporters during impeachment hearings against him in 2019, leveraging her position on the Intelligence Committee to grill witnesses. This garnered attention from Mr. Trump, who tweeted at the time that "a new Republican Star is born."
Stefanik also backed Mr. Trump's false claims that the election was stolen, and voted against certifying Mr. Biden's Electoral College victory in several states. In a statement defending her votes, she falsely said that 140,000 votes in Fulton County, Georgia, were illegal.
Along with her support for Mr. Trump, Stefanik is known for her efforts to help Republican women enter politics. Stefanik's political action committee supporting Republican women was involved in several races in the last election cycle, supporting 18 freshmen women who won in 2020.
Few Republicans have come out in support of Cheney. GOP Senator Mitt Romney tweeted his support for Cheney on Tuesday, saying that she "refuses to lie." GOP Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of the other House Republicans to vote to impeach Mr. Trump, expressed his support for Cheney on Wednesday.
"On January 6th, both @GOPLeader and @RepLizCheney condemned the former guy's words. @RepLizCheney hasn't changed her tune like @GOPLeader quickly did. They are trying to remove Liz for telling you the truth, consistently," Kinzinger tweeted.
McCarthy was critical of Mr. Trump in the immediate aftermath of the attack on January 6, saying on January 13 that the former president bore "responsibility" for the incident and arguing in favor of censuring him. But McCarthy has since changed his tune and sought to tie himself closer to Mr. Trump. Republicans have the chance to retake the House in 2022, with McCarthy in line to become speaker. As Mr. Trump is still very popular among GOP voters, some congressional Republicans have continued to defend the president and his falsehoods about the election to ensure their support.
A spokesperson for Cheney responded to McCarthy's comments in the "Fox & Friends" interview, saying that Cheney would not promote falsehoods about the election or downplay the attack on the Capitol.
"This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on January 6. Liz will not do that. That is the issue," spokesperson Jeremy Adler said in a statement to CBS News on Tuesday.