Elise Stefanik of New York, the No. 3 Republican in the House, annoyed fellow House GOP leaders when she backed a New York congressional candidate with a history of racist and other controversial comments, two sources said.
Stefanik this month supported Carl Paladino, a Buffalo developer, without consulting other members of a leadership team, including California minority leader Kevin McCarthy and Louisiana minority whip Steve Scalise, said a GOP House leadership aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because she not authorized to comment publicly on the matter.
A House Republican familiar with the GOP leadership’s frustration with Stefanik, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, called her endorsement of Paladino “baffling” and “unpleasant”.
Paladino has made headlines in recent weeks for suggesting on Facebook that recent mass shootings were “false flag” operations and for an interview last year in which he said Adolf Hitler was the “kind of leader we need today,” with news articles that pointed to his connection to Stefanik, the Speaker of the House Republican Conference. The sources said the appearance of a connection between Paladino and the House leadership frustrated fellow top Republicans.
“When you’re in that number 3 position, when you’re in leadership, anything you say is something that will be interpreted as on behalf of the team,” said the House leadership leader, adding: “This is why we’re from Liz Cheney off. And now Elise is doing the same.”
Republicans ousted Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming from leadership and replaced her with Stefanik last year after Cheney, who voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump for his role in the Capitol uprising, continued to publicly chide him for promoting false claims about the 2020 election.
Stefanik’s campaign and office declined to comment. Representatives from McCarthy, Scalise and the National Republican Congressional Committee did not respond to requests for comment.
A high-ranking Republican who was not authorized to speak on the subject pointed to Stefanik’s approval record this cycle, noting that “a majority of her approved candidates win” and predicting that Nick Langworthy, the state GOP chair who also runs the 23rd wants to represent. District, will suffer “a huge, embarrassing loss” to Paladino in the Aug. 23 primary.
“Republicans running for leadership would be very smart to make Carl an ally as he will join in January 2023,” said this person.
It is not uncommon for members of the leadership to support candidates themselves.
Stefanik endorsed Paladino, an early Trump backer in 2016, almost immediately after GOP Rep. Chris Jacobs announced he wouldn’t stand for re-election in the 23rd congressional district after expressing support for a federal ban on so-called assault weapons† In her approval, Stefanik described Paladino as “a job creator and conservative outsider who will be a tireless fighter for the people of New York in our fight to put America first to save the country.”
Shortly after her approval, Paladino . sparked response to a post shared on his Facebook account claiming that recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York were “false flag” operations. Then, audio of an interview Paladino gave to WBEN in Buffalo was unearthed last year saying that Hitler was “the kind of leader we need today”.
“I was thinking the other day about someone who mentioned Adolf Hitler on the radio and how he excited the crowd. And he would get there and yell these swear words and these people were just — they were hypnotized by him,” Paladino said in a radio clip shared by left-wing group Media Matters for America† “I think, I think that’s the kind of leader we need today. We need someone who is inspiring. We need someone who is a doer, who has been there and who has done it.”
Paladino said in a statement that the comments were a “serious error” but argued they were not in context.
“Any implication that I support Hitler or any of the sick and disgusting actions of the Nazi regime is a new low for the media,” he said. “The context of my statement related to something I heard from someone else on the radio and repeated: I understand that in any context appealing to Hitler is a serious mistake and rightly upsets people. I strongly condemn the murderous atrocities committed by Hitler and the Nazis against the Jewish people.”
A spokesman for Stefanik said in a statement at the time that she has “one of the strongest records in US Congress condemning anti-Semitism and led and passed bipartisan legislation to expand Holocaust education.”
Paladino has a history of controversial or racist comments. Last week, CNN published audio telling a radio host in 2016 that black Americans were being kept “dumb and hungry” so they would vote only for Democrats, adding, “You can’t teach them otherwise.” In the same year, Paladino, then a member of the Buffalo Board of Education, made racist comments about then-First Lady Michelle Obama “being released into the outback of Zimbabwe, where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.”
Paladino claimed that CNN took him out of context. After his 2016 comments about the Obamas, in which he also said he wished then-President Barack Obama to die of mad cow disease after having sex with a cow, he said he said “I couldn’t have made a worse choice in the words I used to express my feelings.”
Stefanik’s endorsement of Paladino seems to stem from a growing feud between her and Langworthy. Politico reported: this week.
Speak with the New York Post this month, Langworthy said Stefanik supported Paladino over a “vendetta” after the state party defeated Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin backed in his gubernatorial bid against government Kathy Hochul rather than a potential challenge from Stefanik.
However, Politico reported that Langworthy has annoyed some state Republicans who believe it is a conflict of interest for him to run for Jacobs’ seat after they encouraged him, as state president, not to run for re-election. Others generally see it as a conflict to run for the seat while continuing to serve as chairman of the state party.
“I think he should step down as chairman – period,” Sue McNeil, the GOP chair in Fulton County, told the New York Post† In addition, three out of four GOP candidates as the governor called on him to resign during a debate this week – the only exception being Zeldin.
McCarthy, meanwhile, has come under criticism from Trump over a lack of Republican representation on the Jan. 6 House committee. Trump told a conservative radio host he has not yet decided to back McCarthy in a possible bid for the speaker if Republicans regain control of the House in November.
CORRECTION (June 23, 2022, 8:50 PM ET): A previous version of this article misidentified Kevin McCarthy’s House leadership position. He is the leader of the minority, not the speaker.