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Elise Stefanik has become a star in the GOP. Is it enough to be Trump's VP?

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – At a recent ribbon cutting ceremony in Rep. Elise Stefanik's district – not far from the international border – a pair of Jewish Canadian citizens approached the New York Republican thanking her for questioning a trio of college presidents about the rise of antisemitism on their campuses.

Stefanik's line ofinquiryduring a heated hearing last year – and the subsequentresignationsof two of the three presidents – echoed far outside Washington. It also illustrated the rise of the House Republican conference chair, the 40-year-old Stefanik, one of the more visible congressional Trump supporters in the GOP.

In the world of Donald Trump, where potential running mates have lined up in front of microphones outside a courthouse where he was being tried for 34 felony charges, does visibility alone make her vice presidential?

An early sign her star was rising came long before her verbal wrestling with Ivy League academics. It happenedyears ago, in a restaurant called Poopie’s Diner.

Stefanik had given a vigorous defense of the former president when House Democrats impeached himover accusations he abused the presidency in pressuring Ukraine to investigate then-presidential candidate Joe Biden and his family.

Nestled in Glens Falls, one of the few Democratic-leaning areas in her district,Poopie’s Diner is a sort of microcosm of the electorate of New York’s Twenty-First.

Outside, Poopie’s is a largely unassuming American diner with one of Stefanik’s campaign signs hanging outside. Inside though, Poopie’s owner, Jerry DiManno, made what is akin to a shrine to Trump to the immediate right of its entrance.

“I’m on Trump’s side all the way,” DiManno said in June, his forehead dripping with sweat at the counter, when a storm took out the power to Poopie’s. Various pieces of both Trump and Stefanik memorabilia sit in a corner of the diner, from campaign merchandise to books to even a signed portrait from the former president.

Hanging from a wall is a signed portrait of Stefanik: “Jerry – I ˥ Poopies!!”

Congresswomen Elise Stefanik’s photo hangs at the restaurant Poopie’s in Glens Falls, New York.

Stefanik made an unannounced visit to Poopie's during the tail end of Trump’s first impeachment trial in the Senate in early 2020. She was working alongside future White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and future House Speaker Mike Johnson defending the Republican president before the upper chamber.

Constituents are used to seeing their congressional representatives maybe once every few years, mostly on TV commercials leading up to Election Day. Trump's impeachment trial was televised and streamed, and the principal players on both sides got plenty of screen time on national networks for all Americans to see a constitutional process that had only played out only in nearly 250 years of U.S. history.

When Stefanik entered that night in 2020, the entire restaurant, tables full, stood up and gave her a standing ovation for her unyielding defense of Trump.

“We realized at that moment on, it was never going to be the same for her," said Alex DeGrasse, one of Stefanik’s closest advisors who has worked with her since her first campaign back in 2014. It's now four years later, and DeGrasse was back in Poopie’s recalling the moment over a cold sandwich. That’s all the diner was serving, since the power was still out. Stefanik aides were already moving behind the scenes trying to get the lights back on. A power company’s truck was parked nearby, but nobody was in it.

The impeachment, as DeGrasse put it between bites, was a “rocket ship” for Stefanik’s career, who is among the few names – and the only woman – who received vetting materials from Trump’s campaign to potentially be his second-in-command.

Trump said he expects to name his running mate by the start of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee on July 15. There's no official shortlist, but several GOP sources close to the Trump campaign recently told 鶹ý that the three finalists are North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Republican Sens. J.D. Vance of Ohio and Marco Rubio of Florida. Those sources do include the caveat that this is Trump, known for being unpredictable,and anything remains possible.

For all the flak Stefanik gets from Democrats and her critics, accusing her of selling out for Trump, it is difficult to say she is not regarded highly in her district.

“I’ve had a lot of people come in here that are veterans and police departments. They all love her around here. Troopers, local police, county police, they all like her a lot,” DiManno said.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) making the media rounds on June 28, 2024, in the spin room at Georgia Tech's McCamish Pavilion after the CNN Presidential Debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump held at CNN's studios in Atlanta.

Stefanik’s district is indisputably MAGA country, as evidenced by Trump winning Stefanik’s constituents by more than 15 points in the 2020 presidential election. Both ideologically and physically, it could not be further away from deep blue New York City which lies more than 150 miles south.

In its most northern part, a stoplight cannot be seen for miles, and it would be difficult for anyone driving through the district to miss the Trump flags and hand-made signs strewn across yards on the side of the road. Its population of more than 770,000 is sparsely distributed throughout aregion almost the size of nearby Vermont and New Hampshire combined. “You almost need a helicopter to move around that district,” New York conservative party chair Gerard Kassar quipped.

“I reflect my district, and I proudly support President Trump,” Stefanik said in an interview with 鶹ý.

That's not just a line for some of Stefanik's constituents. The second time he met Stefanik, Brandon Budlong, president of the local border patrol union chapter partly in her district, had her phone number and could get in touch with her or her team whenever he needed.

“The guys are like well, trust in Brandon because he’s talking to Elise. And Elise is going to get it addressed,” Budlong, who was Stefanik’s guest at this year’s State of the Union address, said of his members’ support of him and Stefanik.

Touring the Montgomery County Sheriff’s office in Fultonville, a small village home to less than 1,000 residents and just a rifle’s shot from the Mohawk River, police officers briefed Stefanik on a $1.5 million investment she secured for the office from this year’s government spending process.

Those funds are being used to provide new ambulances for the office which has struggled to keep up with EMS calls, a familiar problem for rural America. Over the past three months, the office said it has fielded over 260 EMS calls with no ambulances available.

Walking through the small 911 center, outfitted with just four desks and an equal number of dispatchers at the time, Stefanik asked one of them about the day-to-day workflow.

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik met with 911 dispatchers Staysha Forsey and Tyrell Homkey at the Montgomery County Public Safety facility during a recent tour of her district.

“How are you? How has the volume of calls been lately?” Stefanik asked.

Some days, nothing, the dispatcher told her. Other days, the calls can be non-stop. The conversation was about to end, until Stefanik found out the dispatcher was a new mother of a five-month-old girl.

“How are you doing?” she, a mother of a two-year-old boy herself, turned and asked. Stefanik, whose son, Sam, turns three at the end of August, offered advice to cherish the time she has with her daughter: “The days are long, but the years and months are short when you look back.”

‘When she opens that mouth, you were killing them Elise’

Stefanik’s profile in the GOP has been on the rise since the start of her congressional career less than 10 years ago. In 2014, at the age of 29, Stefanik made history as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress at the time. Arriving on Capitol Hill, she was seen as the face of a new generation of Republicans and someone who could reach across the aisle as Americans were growing more frustrated over gridlock.

She wasn't always a fan of Trump, who earned his fame as a real estate mogul before turning to politics. In 2015,Stefanikcalled Trump “insulting to women”and initially backedthen-Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the 2016 presidential race. When Trump’s infamous “Access Hollywood” tape leaked just weeks before the election, where he made comments about assaulting women, Stefanik released a statement calling them “inappropriate, offensive” and “just wrong.”

Her career did not skyrocket to where it was today because of centrism. What she is most well-known for now is her undying loyalty to Trump.

She describes herself as Trump’s “strongest ally” in Congress, a bold proclamation given how a number of other GOP lawmakers would also say they are the former president’s staunchest supporters.

"When he needed a leader to stand in the breach, I’ve stood in the breach,” she told 鶹ý.

Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, speaks during the Republican National Convention at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 26, 2020.

Indeed, the New York Republican has stood by Trump in his weakest moments.

Stefanik's loyalty was on display after a mob of his supporters attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to overturn his election defeat, joining the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying some of Biden’s electoral votes after rioters were cleared out of the building.

When Republicans blamed Trump for their severe underperformance in the 2022 midterm elections, Stefanik was the first lawmaker to endorsethe former president's next White House campaign, even beforehe hadofficially announcedit.

She is also the one who pitched and then helped organize the presumptive presidential nominee's meeting this spring with House Republicans as they talked through the GOP's goals for the coming year. The session marked Trump's first appearance on Capitol Hill since leaving the presidency and the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Stefanik’s chances at becoming Trump’s running mate – and possibly the next vice president – are not lost on her constituents. At an honor flight for veterans from the North Country region of New York at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., one veteran who met her told her, “I hope you become vice president.”

Another veteran when they saw her: “Oh my god! It’s Elise!” he said, before quickly realizing he had to get a photo with her.

Jerry DiManno makes sandwiches during the lunch rush at his restaurant, Poopie’s in Glens Falls, New York. DiManno supports Congresswomen Elise Stefanik and hangs her photo on his wall at his restaurant.

Her defense of Trump during the first impeachment, she said, was when their “very strong” relationship began. “No one asked more effective questions to unravel that impeachment hoax than I did,” Stefanik said in the interview.

For all the attacks and condemnations Stefanik levied at Democrats, that ultimately did not stop the House from voting to impeach Trump and initiating a trial in the Senate, where Stefanik served in an unofficial capacity as a spokesperson for Trump's congressional defense team.

At the end of the day though, Trump was acquitted. It was not a shocking result, given the high threshold to convict a president, but Stefanik was among the Republicans the former president heaped lavish praise on after his acquittal.

"I thought 'She looks good, she looks like good talent,'" Trump said to an audience of GOP leaders, including Stefanik, at the White House after his acquittal. "But I did not realize, when she opens that mouth, you were killing them Elise."

"I'll always be your friend," the former president added. "What a great future you have."

Her devotion to Trump has made Stefanik a “household name in the MAGA movement,” Steve Bannon, the recently imprisoned former advisor to the former president who continues to be a force in Trump world, told 鶹ý last month.

Stefanik famously replaced the House GOP’s last conference chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who was Trump’s most vocal criticin Congress in the wake of Jan. 6. Cheney later lost her seat to a Trump-backed challenger.

Her succession of Cheney is particularly remarkable given the praise Stefanik had for the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney in previous years. Stefanik even nominated Cheney to the conference chair position in both 2018 and 2020.

“Liz, I was very proud to nominate you to serve as our conference chair. That is the highest position of women in the Republican conference, and we think you’re a huge asset in that role,” she said in 2019 at a launch event for Elevate PAC, Stefanik’s political action committee aimed at recruiting Republican women.

She now takes immense pride in ousting Cheney, who she said was “doing a disservice” with her “vicious attacks” on Trump.

Perhaps Stefanik’s most viral moment was when she went off-script at the end of December's congressional hearing with the three college presidents by asking them whether calling for the genocide of Jews warranted disciplinary action.

She figured they would answer the question, which seemed to be a softball, with a resounding yes. In fact, she prepared a follow-up question to ask them about enforcement problems on their campuses.

But all three presidents waffled and dodged the question, instead offering legal responses without directly condemning calling for the genocide of Jews. The exchange between Stefanik and the presidents, hailing for Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and MIT blew up on social media and garnered worldwide attention.

Stefanik said she didn’t anticipate her line of questioning getting as much attention as it did. But reflecting upon it now, she said, “There’s a reason why, and it’s because it was just moral bankruptcy on display.”

Her stock rose after the hearing and so did the scrutiny. Her critics were quick to point out Stefanik's campaign ads in 2021 that claimed Democrats were allowing undocumented immigrants to enter the U.S. to change the electorate in their favor, echoing the antisemitic Great Replacement Theory. The ads garnered heavy scrutiny in 2022 after a mass shooting suspect peddled the theory in an apparent manifesto.

When asked about the ad, Stefanik said she had never heard of the replacement theory when the ads were first the topic of debate in 2022: "The ad talked about border security, which is not racist. Securing the border is what people across this country want.”

Congresswomen Elise Stefanik meets with fellow New Yorker Joshua Poitras at McSweeney's Red Hots in upstate New York.

From Harvard University to Trump loyalist

Those who know Stefanik’s path to power know it didn’t go the way of so many other MAGA Republicans. She didn’t ride a sudden wave of populism to serve in a massive federal government with no knowledge about the way things work in Washington.

Stefanik recalled her mother would drop her off at the New York state GOP’s headquarters in Albany, where she stuffed envelopes and made yard signs. It was the September 11, 2001, attacks, Stefanik said in the interview, that was “a very crystallizing moment” to push her into politics.

Her first job out of college – she notes she was “one of the few Republicans” at Harvard where she graduated – was in the George W. Bush administration in his White House Domestic Policy Council. After a few other stints, she later worked for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and helpedPaul Ryan prepare for his first vice presidential debate with Joe Biden.

But the GOP’s stinging defeat in the 2012 presidential election in part spurred her to run for Congress two years later. In the wake of the 2012 loss, Stefanik helped the RNC put together its “autopsy” report. The report called for Republicans to be more inclusive to a wider swath of voters, including young women. She said she embodied those recommendations in her bid to flip New York's 21st District, a seat that was held by Democrats since 1993.

“I felt like this district needed a new generation approach, high-energy and just someone to fight” upstate New York, she said.

Most aspiring elected officials often fail to adjust from Washington politics to grassroots campaigning, but Stefanik was different, said Ed Cox, the chairman of the New York GOP.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y. stands with Matthew Manda and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., for a ceremonial swearing-in and photo-op during the opening session of the 115th Congress on Jan. 3, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

“She was coming from the West Wing of the White House to preparing Paul Ryan for debates, dealing with big policy issues. That is a very heavy atmosphere," Cox told 鶹ý. “She put in the work, and it was a delight to see her adapt."

In that rookie political campaign, Stefanik successfully flipped her seat by an overwhelming margin of more than 20 percentage points. Arriving back in Washington, she didn't start out as a party-line lawmaker. In her first term, which overlapped with the final two years of the Obama administration, ranked Stefanik the 31st most bipartisan member of Congress. In her second term, it ranked her 19th.

Fort Drum is among Stefanik’s major legislative priorities. The Army base, lying on the western border of New York and near the Canadian border, is home to the largest deployed Army unit since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.Almost 15,000 military service members work at the base along with 16,000 family members who reside at Fort Drum or in the local area.

She prides herself most for the legislative wins she secured for the base, offering a listicle of improvements and investments for Fort Drum when asked. Included in those wins was when she, along with the rest of the state’s congressional delegation, protected the base from major defense cuts in her first term.

Congresswomen Elise Stefanik meets with small business members at Kirsh helmets. Kirsh helmets manufactures motorcycle helmets, all American-made.

That particular victory provides a small snapshot of the type of legislator Stefanik was in her early years on Capitol Hill.

She to then Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter emphasizing the importance of the base to national security. Including among the signatories was Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who is currently serving as the upper chamber’s majority leader and has long been reviled by Republicans.

And though she voted with many of Trump’s policy initiatives, she gave the thumbs down on his signature 2017 tax cuts widely seen as the Republican president’s biggest domestic policy victory.

But Stefanik didn't keep Trump at arm's length for long. She heavily lobbied Trump to come to Fort Drum to sign an annual defense policy bill there.

“I have to tell you about Elise. She called me so many times. I said I don’t want to take her call,” Trump said during the August 2018 event after introducing Stefanik and mispronouncing her name.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), chair of the House Republican Conference, attends the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2024, at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.

“That was still one of the best events he did and certainly that we’ve had in this district,” Stefanik reflected in the interview.

Stefanik’s experience in Congress could be of value to a second Trump administration. By virtue of her position as conference chair which organizes and manages the day-to-day operations of the House GOP, she has cultivated relationships with many lawmakers.

“She’s a political animal. I don’t believe you change who you are just like that,” a GOP lawmaker close to GOP leadership said on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly. To Stefanik’s credit though, the lawmaker said, she is “extremely political” and would do well in the vice presidency given her existing connections to Capitol Hill.

'One of the leaders of the MAGA movement for decades to come’

Stefanik has not gone to the lengths her other vice-presidential contenders have gone to support the former president. Though she was in Atlanta to support and stump for Trump at the first presidential debate, she did not go to Manhattan to attend his criminal hush money trial in May.

Her allies do not say if she has vice presidential aspirations– with the exception of Kassar, who said he “absolutely” knows Stefanik wants to be vice president – and she has not brought up the topic in their conversations. Johnson described her to 鶹ý in June as a “strong candidate” for vice president, but noted Trump has a list of other “great candidates” and declined to weigh in further.

But even if Stefanik is not chosen, she could land a senior administrative role in a second Trump presidency.

“I’m sure she’ll be offered a senior position in the Cabinet. And if she doesn’t take that, she’s in House leadership. So regardless of what happens she’ll get a much higher national profile,” Bannon said. “And she’s very young, so she’s perfectly positioned to be of the leaders of the MAGA movement for decades to come.”

New York Republican Elise Stefanik meets with law enforcement at the Montgomery County Sheriff’s office in upstate New York.

Behind the scenes, Stefanik's colleagues who share committees with her describe her as sharp and attentive to detail.

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., a close friend who attended her wedding and who works with her on the House Armed Services Committee and House Education and Workforce Committee, recalled taking Stefanik on her first congressional delegation trip in 2015 to the Middle East, which included visits to Jordan, Afghanistan and Iraq. There, he “saw her capabilities and understanding of foreign affairs” and identified her as a soon-to-be star in the GOP.

That stardom of course transcends international borders, as evidenced when Stefanik was greeted by Jewish Canadian citizens thanking her for her work. Stefanik in May also became the highest-ranking GOP lawmaker to address the Israeli Knesset.

Her allies say it would hardly be a setback for her if Trump chooses someone else to be his running mate. Stefanik only just turned 40 at the start of July, comparatively younger to the rest of her colleagues on Capitol Hill.

Whether it be remaining as conference chair or returning to the White House where her first job out of college over a decade and a half ago, the adoration – and vitriol – from both her friends and enemies all ensure she will continue be a GOP and MAGA superstar both nationally and in New York’s 21st.

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