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Representative Elise Stefanik claims GOP is "unified" after leadership election

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Republicans officially named Representative Elise Stefanik to the party's third-highest ranking position in the House on Friday. CBSN's Caitlin Huey-Burns spoke with Tanya Rivero about what this means for the GOP.

Video Transcript

TANYA RIVERO: Republicans have selected representative Elise Stefanik to take over as the party's third highest ranking member of the House. The 36-year-old New Yorker easily defeated Chip Roy of Texas to become House Republican Conference Chair. Stefanik has become an ardent defender of former President Trump's since his first impeachment trial.

She has repeated his numerous lies about the 2020 election and was among the Republicans who voted not to certify the results. The Congresswoman says her victory gives the party a clear message for the future.

ELISE STEFANIK: We are unified. And I look to the voters across America. Republican voters are unified in their support and their desire to work with President Trump. And we are unified as Republicans. As I said, this is the slimmest majority that Nancy Pelosi has in a generation.

We picked up a number of seats, defied expectations. We're going on offense. And we're going to win on the issues.

TANYA RIVERO: Stefanik takes over for Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney, ousted earlier this week for her opposition to the GOP's lies about election fraud. Cheney has vowed to continue speaking out against the former president and her own party. CBS News Washington reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns joins me now.

Hi, Caitlin. Great to see you. So what is the party's overall message to voters now that Stefanik is in leadership? You know, is this party committed to tying itself ever more closely to Donald Trump?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: Hi, Tanya. Well, Republican leaders, when they appeared before reporters today, wanted to show unity and strength and united opposition against the Biden administration and its policies. Whether they can actually do that remains an open question. But you heard from Stefanik there talking about the party's relationship with Trump.

And what I thought was really interesting was she said that former President Trump remains a critical part of the Republican team. She has been an ardent supporter of the former president. And her kind of evolution and change in Congress kind of tracks with the evolution and change of the Republican Party over the past couple of years.

When she came to Congress, she was the youngest member ever elected at the time. She came from a more moderate district, a swing district that had supported Obama, yet voted for a Republican in Congress. She was of the more moderate mold, kind of tracking with the Romneys and Cheneys and the Bushes of the world.

And then as her district changed to support Trump twice in 2016 and 2020, she too has become further endeared to the former president. And so her rise is remarkable insofar as it kind of tracks with how Republicans have changed. And Cheney's fall, it also illustrates that as well.

So Republicans today wanted to make clear that they want to have a united front against Biden and his policies and set themselves up for the coming 2022 midterms where they hope to gain enough seats to win back the House. But if you still have the former president weighing in every week claiming without any evidence that the election was fraudulent, still weighing in on the past, can they actually move on to the future?

TANYA RIVERO: And Caitlin, how is Liz Cheney reacting to this? I mean, she's not really showing a sign of going quietly into that goodnight since her ouster. What does this mean for the future of the GOP overall?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: That's exactly right. Cheney said essentially that while she lost this battle, she is not giving up on the larger fights ahead and really sees herself now in the position to push forward and be the leader on that message. And after her ouster this week, she was seeking and got national platforms for this message. So you could argue that she has a bigger platform perhaps than she had within the conference now that she is outside of leadership.

The question, however, is whether there is a viable constituency for that within the Republican Party. Cheney was quick to speak to reporters right after she was removed from her leadership position. She's done a few interviews. She actually did an interview this morning with New Hampshire radio, which she raises speculation about 2024 and maybe higher presidential ambitions.

But we do see at the party, as you mentioned, Stefanik embracing Trump, a Republican conference really moving in that direction. At the same time, you have at the state level state legislatures pushing forward with changes to election laws after the 2020 election and our own polling that shows that the base of the Republican Party really does not believe that Biden was the legitimate winner. So what kind of impact that has on whether Cheney can further her message and have some clout as Republicans try to figure out how to gain back power in Washington.

TANYA RIVERO: So interesting. Caitlin Huey-Burns, thank you so much. We appreciate your insight.

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: Thank you.