In a highly unusual move, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday endorsed Harriet Hageman, the Trump-backed candidate challenging Rep. Liz Cheney in the Wyoming Republican primary.
"I am proud to endorse Harriet Hageman for Congress," McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a statement tweeted by Hageman. "I look forward to welcoming Harriet to a Republican majority next Congress."
House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who replaced Cheney in that leadership role after her ouster, also endorsed Hageman on Friday, calling her "a true America First patriot who has what it takes to restore true representation for Wyoming families."
Party leaders in Congress rarely, if ever, get involved in primaries, particularly if a member on their side of the aisle is seeking re-election.
The public endorsement by McCarthy, first reported by The Federalist, underscores former President Donald Trump's ever-expanding influence on the GOP. Trump has set his sights on defeating the handful of congressional Republicans who voted to impeach or convict him last year. Cheney is one of his main targets.
The former president celebrated McCarthy and Stefanik's endorsement of his preferred candidate in a statement Friday.
"Congratulations to Kevin McCarthy and Elise Stefanik on their strong and powerful endorsement of Harriet Hageman of Wyoming. Loser Liz Cheney is a RINO and warmonger who doesn’t deserve to serve in the House of Representatives," Trump said.
McCarthy and Cheney have been openly critical of each other after the Jan. 6 riot. Cheney, who was booted from her No. 3 post in House GOP leadership after she voted for impeachment, has been outspoken about the need to hold Trump accountable for the attack on the Capitol.
Cheney is one of only two Republicans on the House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the other GOP member on the panel, is not seeking re-election.
The Republican National Committee recently censured Cheney and Kinzinger for their involvement with the Jan. 6 panel.
Asked last week by NBC News whether he agreed with the RNC's decision to censure the two lawmakers, McCarthy said: “I think there’s a reason why Adam is not running again. I think there’s a reason why, at the end of the day, Liz would have a hard time winning here if she runs, and I don’t think she runs.”
Hageman welcomed McCarthy's support Thursday, saying on Twitter: "I am proud to have your endorsement and I look forward to working with you on behalf of the American people and the people of Wyoming to hold the Biden Administration accountable!"
In a statement, a spokesperson for Cheney said of Hageman: "Wow. She must really be desperate."
According to the latest fundraising figures, Cheney pulled in more than $1.97 million during the last three months of 2021, bringing her yearly total to nearly $6.5 million. Hageman, who launched her bid in September, reported about $443,000 in contributions last quarter, bringing her total for the year to over $745,000.