In this Feb. 13, 2019, file photo, House Republican Conference chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, at right, talks to reporters during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

WASHINGTON — No. 3 House Republican Liz Cheney was clinging to her post Wednesday as party leaders lined up behind an heir apparent, signaling that the fallout over her repeated clashes with former President Donald Trump were becoming too much for her to overcome.

Trump issued a statement giving his “COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement” to Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York to replace Cheney. Minutes earlier, he’d spoken by phone to Stefanik and expressed his backing for her, said a person close to the former president who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation.

Stefanik, a 36-year-old Trump loyalist who’s played an increasingly visible role within the GOP in recent years, was also endorsed by No. 2 House Republican leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

There were no other visible contenders for the post. A closed-door showdown vote by House Republicans on Cheney’s fate and her replacement, likely by Stefanik, is possible next week.

Cheney was making little noticeable effort to cement support for herself by calling colleagues or enlisting others to lobby on her behalf, said one House GOP aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the situation. A second person familiar with Cheney’s effort also said she was not lining up votes.

Nor was Cheney showing any signs of stepping down voluntarily.

“Liz will have more to say in the coming days. This moment is about much more than a House leadership fight,” said Cheney spokesman Jeremy Adler.

Cheney, the daughter of Dick Cheney, who was George W. Bush’s vice president and before that a Wyoming congressman, seemed to have almost unlimited potential until this year. Her career began listing after she was among just 10 House Republicans to back Trump’s impeachment for inciting supporters to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Since then, she has persistently rejected Trump’s false claims that he lost his November reelection bid due to fraud, an assertion that dozens of state and local officials and judges have found no evidence to support.

The battle over Cheney has become a symbolic moment for a GOP trying to define itself in the aftermath of Trump’s presidency. Trump still has an enormous — perhaps a decisive — hold on the party, but that is forcing its members to decide whether to back his false claims about the election and downplay his role in deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, or hold him accountable for them.

Cheney has chosen the second path, arguing the country cannot “whitewash” Trump’s role in the assault on the Capitol. She made that remark Tuesday at a fundraising event with the conservative American Enterprise Institute at Sea Island, Georgia, according to a person familiar with the event.

Stefanik began her House career in 2015 as a moderate Republican but morphed into a stalwart Trump defender by 2019. Her status and visibility within the GOP have soared since then.

Trump’s statement Wednesday underscored his bitter rift with Cheney.

“Liz Cheney is a warmongering fool who has no business in Republican Party Leadership. We want leaders who believe in the Make America Great Again movement, and prioritize the values of America First. Elise Stefanik is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement for GOP Conference Chair. Elise is a tough and smart communicator!”

Rep. Steve Scalise, the House GOP whip, also is backing Stefanik for Cheney’s post, said Scalise spokesperson Lauren Fine. The Louisiana Republican’s was the first explicit call from GOP leadership for the ouster of Cheney from her leadership job.

Republicans must focus on gaining House control in the 2022 elections “and fighting against Speaker Pelosi and President Biden’s radical socialist agenda, and Elise Stefanik is strongly committed to doing that, which is why Whip Scalise has pledged to support her for Conference Chair,” said the statement from Fine said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, said Tuesday that rank-and-file Republicans were concerned about Cheney’s “ability to carry out her job” as a result of her public comments about Trump.

Without support from McCarthy and Scalise, Cheney’s political future in the House appears increasingly slim.

Cheney is the highest-ranking woman in the GOP leadership. Removing her without replacing her with another woman could be politically damaging for a party seeking to bolster its weak appeal among women voters.

There are just 31 Republican women in the House, about one-third of Democrats’ total but up from the 13 who served in the last Congress.

Cheney’s opposition to Trump put her out of step with most House Republicans, including the 138 who voted against certifying the Electoral College vote for Biden’s victory. A handful of others, including Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, who voted to impeach Trump, see Cheney as the “truth-telling” GOP leader the nation needs.

Some fellow Republicans tried to oust her from her leadership position, but they failed in February in a secret party ballot, 145-61, in part because McCarthy urged his troops to remain unified against Democrats.

McCarthy appeared on Fox News Channel Tuesday, and spoke of Cheney a day after Trump leveled fresh claims of voter fraud.

“I have heard from members concerned about her ability to carry out her job as conference chair, to carry out the message,” he said. “We all need to be working as one if we’re able to win the majority.”

McCarthy, who delivered a speech supporting her when House Republicans privately voted to keep her in February, will not do that this time, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal conversations.

Story by Alam Fram. Associated Press writers Steve Peoples, Lisa Mascaro, Jill Colvin and Kevin Freking contributed to this report