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4 things to know about Elise Stefanik, as VP rumors swirl

Rep Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., seen here campaigning for former President Donald Trump in New Hampshire, recently said, "Of course I'd be honored — I've said that for a year — to serve in a future Trump administration in any capacity."
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Rep Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., seen here campaigning for former President Donald Trump in New Hampshire, recently said, "Of course I'd be honored — I've said that for a year — to serve in a future Trump administration in any capacity."

At just 39 years old, Rep. Elise Stefanik has soared to the top ranks of Congress — an institution rarely associated with youth. And there are signs Stefanik's rise could hit new heights: she's seen as a potential running mate for Donald Trump, as he seeks to recapture the White House.

In 2016, Stefanik notably avoided using Trump's name. Turn to 2024, and she's been campaigning for Trump in New Hampshire.

When Stefanik was asked about whether she would consider running alongside Trump, she replied, "Of course I'd be honored — I've said that for a year — to serve in a future Trump administration in any capacity."

Here's a rundown of things to know about Stefanik, a New York Republican:

Stefanik was once widely known as a moderate

As recently as 2020, Stefanik was rated the 13th most bipartisan House member — a status she had previously celebrated.

"I believe that the path to growing the GOP is to have a positive message with new types of candidates," Stefanik said during her first years in Congress, saying America's voters were tired of the same old politics.

In 2015, Stefanik spoke to North Country Public Radio about her preference for working within her party's moderate Tuesday Group, calling it "more of the governing caucus within the Republican Party," one that sought "to avoid these crises, avoid this internal squabbling for the sake of the American people, for the sake of more certainty in governing."

In 2017, Stefanik was selected to co-chair the body, which is now known as the Republican Governance Group.

"This is the future of the Republican Party, the future of our country, people like Elise," former Speaker Paul Ryan told CBS in 2018.

When she was a student at Harvard, Stefanik reportedly found an ally in John Bridgeland, a Republican who was working at the Kennedy School of Government's Institute of Politics after leaving the Bush administration. Bridgeland told The Washington Post in 2022 that he helped Stefanik land a White House job after college, and encouraged her to run for Congress.

"I was so incredibly happy and proud" after she won, Bridgeland told The Post. "I viewed her as the bright light of her generation of leaders. She was crossing the aisle. She was focused on problem-solving. She had the highest character."

But then came Trump — and Stefanik's echoing of his attacks on the 2020 election.

"I was just so shocked she would go down such a dark path," Bridgeland said.

Stefanik's high mark for bipartisan work came during the 116th Congress (2019-2020). By 2021, Stefanik was rated No. 100 on the bipartisan index.

Stefanik's profile has been boosted by controversies

It seems to be a requirement for today's highest-profile politicians: the ability not only to survive controversies, but to transform potential snags into opportunities for greater support — and campaign donations. Stefanik stands among the most adept in that feat.

As she sharply defended Trump during his first impeachment hearings in 2019, Stefanik saw her campaign donations more than quadruple, from $2.8 million in her 2018 race to $13.3 million in 2020, according to data compiled by Open Secrets.

"I am ultra-MAGA. And I'm proud of it," Stefanik said in May 2022.

Stefanik showed her political acumen in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, rising to replace then-Rep. Liz Cheney as the chair of the House Republican Conference — a position to which Stefanik had previously nominated Cheney.

Stefanik has dived into other prickly subjects, most notably Trump's false claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

She was also criticized in 2022 after her campaign seemed to embrace a racist conspiracy theory known as "replacement theory" that claims minority groups are trying to replace white people in America.

As NPR reported, a Stefanik ad aimed at Democrats stated, "Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington."

More recently, Stefanik took aim at Harvard University's handling of antisemitism on its campus — snaring the university's now-former president, Claudine Gay, in a web of scrutiny. Her role in pushing for the ouster of Gay and other Ivy League university presidents has gained her further acclaim among those in the far-right GOP base.

Stefanik has a complicated relationship with her alma mater: Harvard's Kennedy School of Government severed its relations with the politician in 2021, citing her alliance with those attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election. A webpage at the school's Institute of Politics that once highlighted Stefanik's achievements now stands empty.

Stefanik burst onto the national scene 10 years ago

When she won office at 30, Stefanik made history as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress (a distinction later overtaken by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.).

In those early years, Stefanik repeatedly praised legislators who were willing to "reach across the aisle" to work with the opposing party. She was seen as an establishment Republican, having worked in domestic and economic policy at the White House under former President George W. Bush before leaving to work with the 2012 Romney-Ryan presidential campaign.

Stefanik won the seat despite not having deep roots in her district. A native of Albany, she had only recently moved to Willsboro in Essex County, where her family had a vacation home.

"Every person that has come into my store has asked me if I knew who she was, because nobody knows who she is," Glenn Sayward, a longtime Republican who owns a convenience store in Willsboro, toldNorth Country Public Radio in 2014, months ahead of that year's election.

"Nobody knows her as a local," he said. "That's the big question, who is she?"

But Stefanik prevailed after winning over Republicans in her new district — and with the help of veteran operative Karl Rove's American Crossroads organization.

She hasn't always been on Team Trump

In fact, when Trump was working to secure the Republican nomination in 2016, Stefanik refused to say his name, pledging only to "support my party's nominee in the fall."

When a recording emerged later that year of Trump making offensive comments about women, Stefanik called Trump's words "inappropriate, offensive" and "just wrong." She also disagreed with his stance on NATO and remarks Trump made about a Gold Star military family who lost their son in Iraq.

In 2017, Stefanik rebuked then-President Trump, saying he made a mistake by pulling the U.S. out of an important international climate deal.

"Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is misguided, and harms the ongoing effort to fight climate change while also isolating us from our allies," Stefanik said at the time, adding, "I am committed to working in Congress on solutions to fight climate change."

Stefanik issued that statement on her official House website — where the page no longer seems to exist (we found it via the Internet Archive).

In her original message, Stefanik spoke of the importance of the U.S. having an "influential seat at the table," and she linked the broad priorities of business innovation and lower carbon emissions to the quality of life in her district.

"As we know in the North Country, protecting our environment goes hand in hand with strengthening our economy," Stefanik said.

Back in early 2016, Stefanik also said she didn't agree with Trump's idea to bar Muslims from immigrating to the U.S., saying it ran counter to the Constitution. At the time, she also didn't think Trump would be the nominee.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.