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Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., emerged this week as a central figure on the Republican side of the House Intelligence Committee in the public impeachment hearings — and a top antagonist of Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
The 35-year-old lawmaker featured prominently as tensions boiled over between lawmakers on Friday during the questioning of former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Ranking Member Devin Nunes, R-Calif., attempted to give up the remainder of his time to her. But as Stefanik spoke, Schiff slammed down the gavel, arguing that it was not allowed under committee rules: “The gentlewoman will suspend.”
“What is the interruption for now?” she shot back.
What followed was a debate between Nunes and Schiff as to whether the Republican could offer his time to a fellow member of Congress, rather than minority counsel. Stefanik repeatedly tried to speak, only for Schiff to bang his gavel again.
“You’re gagging the young lady from New York?” Nunes laughed at one point.
“This is the fifth time you have interrupted a duly-elected member of Congress,” Stefanik told Schiff, who repeatedly told her she was “not recognized” to speak.
Before the testimony began Friday, Schiff shut down Stefanik for the first time after Stefanik asked if he would “continue to prohibit witnesses from answering Republican questions.” Schiff said it wasn’t a “proper” point of order, and then declined to recognize her colleague Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who also tried to raise a parliamentary question.
“We know clearly you’re going to interrupt us throughout this hearing,” Stefanik complained within minutes of the gavel.
Tensions and spats between Republicans and Democrats were expected amid the partisan impeachment hearing, but eyes were generally on Nunes and Jordan — who normally play the roles of attack dog at hearings. But instead, it was Stefanik who generated significant buzz, as well as viral clips that quickly zipped around conservatives and Republicans on Twitter.
Another moment came later in the hearing when Stefanik read out comments from Schiff about how the whistleblower was going to testify “very soon” — comments that he had not allowed to be submitted for the record. As she did so, Schiff sat emotionless with his arms folded.
In this case, the fact that we are getting criticized by [Schiff] for statements he himself made early on in this process shows the duplicity and the abuse of power we are continuing to see,” she said.
She also scored some key narrative points for the Republican side too. In the questioning of Yovanovitch, she asked the ex-ambassador whether it was accurate that “defensive lethal aid” that she had pushed for was provided to Ukraine not by the Obama administration, but by the Trump administration.
“That’s correct,” Yovanovitch responded.
Her performance in the hearings drew praise from fellow Republicans.
“She’s effective. She’s a great spokesperson,” said Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, another member of the Intelligence committee, to The Associated Press. “And these issues are in her wheelhouse.”
It was for Republicans, something of a mirror of another viral 2017 moment when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., shut down remarks from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. When McConnell subsequently complained that he warned her she was breaking Senate rules, he added that “nevertheless, she persisted.” Those words formed a slogan for Democrats — and sympathetic media outlets — that carries on to this day.
Some of those media outlets appeared less sympathetic to Stefanik, however, The Washington Post, which had once called Warren’s moment a “battle cry” called Stefanik’s a “transparently” “manufactured” moment and a “gender-centric stunt.” It also accused her of making “political hay.”
Stefanik has indeed used the Friday moment, as well as the controversy it generated, to follow up with a fundraising push.
“Since I’ve exposed Adam Schiff, radical liberals & never-Trumpers are launching disgusting attacks against me in an attempt to silence me,” she said.
But so has her Democratic opponent Tedra Cobb, tweeting that “partisan political theatre is beneath the dignity of her office.”
“She skipped several important private hearings— now with the cameras on, she has repeatedly attempted to derail the public hearings,” Cobb tweeted. “Stefanik should take her oath to the Constitution seriously.”
Hearings continue next week on Tuesday, and it will remain to be seen the role that Stefanik plays during those hearings as well.
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn and The Associated Press contributed to this report.