Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York and Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio are both leading a legislative effort to symbolically absolve Donald Trump from any culpability in the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
They separately stumped for Trump in New Hampshire and are slated to appear at an upcoming fundraiser for the former president in DC.
The Republican lawmakers each said they would not have certified the 2020 election results had they been Trump’s vice president, despite no evidence of fraud.
And, in a sign of what might be driving their recently shared behavior: Stefanik and Vance have both said they would be happy to serve under Trump in any capacity – including as his running mate.
“I’m proud to be a top surrogate,” Stefanik said during a Thursday appearance on CNN. “I would proudly serve in a future Trump administration.”
Vance, meanwhile, has also expressed interest in joining Trump on the ticket.
“If he asked me, I would certainly consider it,” he recently told CNN. “But I like being a senator.”
The veepstakes auditions are heating up on Capitol Hill as Trump steamrolls his way to the nomination, with Stefanik and Vance, who are both 39, largely at the center of the jockeying. And as Republican lawmakers maneuver to make themselves a more attractive candidate, they are reviving false claims about the 2020 election to rewrite the narrative about January 6 and clear Trump’s name as he faces potential political and legal fallout for his role on that day.
Rep. Tim Burchett, a Trump-friendly Republican lawmaker from Tennessee, acknowledged that some of his colleagues seem eager to prove their loyalty to Trump in hopes of joining him on the ticket, but said the competition has been nothing but friendly.
“I don’t see anybody elbowing anybody as a way to get President Trump,” he said. “I think it’s kind of a big tent situation.”
But another GOP lawmaker had a slightly less charitable view of the situation.
“They just can’t kiss his butt enough,” the GOP lawmaker told CNN, when asked about the apparent jockeying among members to become vice president. “It’s obvious.”
For his part, Trump is not ready to have serious conversations about choosing a running mate, GOP sources familiar with the matter say. But that hasn’t stopped him from fundraising off the idea of a veepstakes and tossing out various names in private conversations, fueling rampant chatter inside the GOP about which of their colleagues might be on his short-list.
“He likes to have fun and say, ‘Gee, you know, this senator is good, and you know, Elise would be good.’ But he has not made any decision,” GOP Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey told CNN of his conversations with Trump. “I think he’s enjoying the fact that there’s a lot of discussion about it.”
While there is a whole host of Republicans from across the country who are seen as vice presidential hopefuls, GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been using their powerful platforms in Congress to try to stand out from the rest of the pack.
A prime example played out in the Capitol last week, as GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida introduced a largely symbolic resolution declaring Trump did not incite an insurrection or rebellion, which comes amid court challenges over whether Trump can remain on the ballot. Trump was impeached by the House, including by 10 House Republicans, for inciting an insurrection.
When Gaetz started informing colleagues he was drafting the measure, Stefanik and Vance – two of Trump’s biggest cheerleaders on Capitol Hill – both raced behind the scenes to become faces of the effort, sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
Vance, who earned a Trump endorsement during his Senate race, ultimately introduced a Senate companion measure. And Stefanik, who is the No. 4 House Republican as GOP conference chair, became a chief co-sponsor with Gaetz and then personally lobbied members to sign on to the resolution, GOP sources said, in a bid to maximize Republican support.
Nearly one-third of the House GOP Conference is now supporting the measure. That includes Reps. Byron Donalds of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who are also said to be interested in joining Trump on the ticket and have acted as surrogates for Trump on the campaign trail, though they are seen as long shots.
Stefanik and Vance’s high-profile involvement did not go unnoticed by their colleagues. Multiple Republicans thought the pair’s maneuvering – which for Stefanik included leading a news conference alongside dozens of her colleagues in the Capitol last week – was squarely aimed at an audience of one.
And indeed, the effort did not go unnoticed by Trump himself.
“He was thrilled that so many members had signed on,” said Gaetz, when asked by CNN whether he talked to Trump about the resolution. “President Trump was heartened by his many supporters who are backing our legislative endeavor.”
Stefanik has been one of the most aggressive Republicans who appears to be campaigning to be vice president, taking steps designed to directly appeal to some of Trump’s biggest preoccupations: congressional endorsements and looming legal cases.
She was the first Republican member of Congress to endorse Trump, before he even officially announced; has filed multiple judicial complaints against the prosecutors overseeing Trump’s legal cases; embraced Trump’s reference to January 6 defendants who are in jail as “hostages”; and erased all her old press releases from before this session of Congress, including statements condemning the violence on January 6.
In her Thursday interview on CNN’s “The Source” with Kaitlan Collins, Stefanik denied she was trying to hide past her critical statements, saying they are still available on other social media channels.
Collins asks Stefanik if she would have certified the election like Pence
“I only have the press releases from this current Congress. All of those statements are available since I was elected on multiple social media accounts. And you can access it there,” she said.
But her most controversial moment of the interview came when Stefanik said she would not have certified the 2020 election results, which were legitimate but continue to be mischaracterized by Trump and his allies, who villainized former Vice President Mike Pence for his actions that day.
“I would not have done what Mike Pence did. I don’t think that was the right approach,” Stefanik said. “I specifically stand by what I said on the House floor. And, I stand by my statement, which was there was unconstitutional overreach.”
Notably, her remarks came just days after Vance said on ABC’s “This Week” that he would not have certified the election results until states submitted pro-Trump electors – a sign the issue is increasingly becoming a new litmus test in the veepstakes.
“If I had been vice president, I would have told the states, like Pennsylvania, Georgia and so many others, that we needed to have multiple slates of electors and I think the US Congress should have fought over it from there,” Vance said. “That is the legitimate way to deal with an election that a lot of folks, including me, think had a lot of problems in 2020. I think that’s what we should have done.”
Vance, though, isn’t the only senator who might be vying for the VP role. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who dropped out of the GOP presidential primary last year, endorsed Trump ahead of the New Hampshire primary and then immediately joined him on the campaign trail.
Scott’s endorsement is likely to carry extra significance for Trump, since it gave the former president a prime opportunity to tweak his rival Nikki Haley, who also hails from South Carolina.
But even as vice presidential wannabes try to maneuver in Washington, there is no shortage of attempts to curry favor with Trump on his home turf as well: One GOP lawmaker described the people trying to get face time with the former president at his hotel in Mar-a-Lago as a “constant drumbeat.”
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