▶ Watch Video: Kinzinger says GOP should “quit peddling in conspiracies”

Washington — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Sunday formally threw his weight behind Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York in her bid to replace Congresswoman Liz Cheney as the third-ranking Republican in the House.

In an interview on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures,” McCarthy, a California Republican, was asked if he supports Stefanik for the job of House Republican Conference chair, to which he replied, “Yes, I do.” 

“We need a conference that’s united,” he said. “That’s why we need a conference chair that is delivering that message, day in and day out, and uniting the nation, to make sure that we are on the right footing going forward.”

Following the minority leader’s endorsement, Stefanik tweeted to thank him for his support.

“Together, as one team, we will stand up for the American people and #FIREPelosi in 2022,” she tweeted.

McCarthy joins former President Donald Trump and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise in publicly backing Stefanik to serve in House Republican leadership. While Cheney survived an earlier attempt to oust her from the position of conference chair, GOP lawmakers are set to vote in the coming days on whether to replace her as tensions between the Wyoming Republican and Republican leaders have risen over her continued criticisms of Mr. Trump.

The upcoming vote marks a crucial point in the internal battle in the House Republican conference over the future of the party and its loyalty to the former president, who continues to falsely claim the presidential election was stolen.

Cheney, who joined nine other House Republicans in voting to impeach Mr. Trump for incitement of the insurrection on January 6, has urged the GOP to banish the former president from the party due to his role in the Capitol assault and for continuing to perpetuate the lie that President Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election.

But House GOP leaders have further embraced the former president, with McCarthy and Scalise separately meeting with Mr. Trump at his private South Florida club, Mar-a-Lago, and McCarthy calling for unity among Republicans as they seek to win back the House majority in 2022. Last week, the California Republican told Fox News rank-and-file lawmakers have expressed concerns to him about Cheney’s ability to “carry out the message” and successfully do her job as conference chair.

While McCarthy initially said Mr. Trump “bears responsibility” for the January 6 assault on the Capitol, which led to the deaths of five people, he has since backtracked on his comments.

Few Republicans have publicly come to Cheney’s defense in recent weeks as the intraparty battle reached a fever pitch. GOP Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who voted to convict Mr. Trump in his Senate impeachment trial, took to Twitter last week to show support for Cheney.

“Every person of conscience draws a line beyond which they will not go: Liz Cheney refuses to lie,” he tweeted. “As one of my Republican Senate colleagues said to me following my impeachment vote: ‘I wouldn’t want to be a member of a group that punished someone for following their conscience.'”

Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, too, has continued to stand behind Cheney and said in an interview on “Face the Nation” on Sunday that Republicans have to decide whether they want to perpetuate Mr. Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

“This is why you have this real battle right now in the party, this idea of let’s just put our differences aside and be unified. You cannot unify truth with lies,” he said. “The lie is that the election was stolen. The truth is Joe Biden beat Donald Trump. And I’m sorry that 74 million people voted for Donald Trump. They weren’t disenfranchised. They were simply outnumbered and as a party let’s focus on now, how do we go out and win more people.”