After defeat at Trump’s hands, Cheney returns to Jan. 6 dais to make case against him
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) will return to the center of the Jan. 6 stage on Thursday when she sits at the dais for her first select committee hearing since losing her reelection bid to a Trump-backed candidate this summer.
Cheney has used her perch as vice chair of the panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol to lay out the case that former President Trump was at the center of a conspiracy to keep himself in power and was ultimately responsible for what happened that day.
But Thursday’s hearing, which is scheduled for 1 p.m., marks the first time the committee will assert that argument since one of its own, Cheney, was defeated by Trump, his allies and the movement that believes the 2020 presidential election was tainted by fraud.
Cheney, a three-term congresswoman who hails from a Republican political dynasty, lost her primary by more than 30 points in August to Wyoming attorney Harriet Hageman, a Cheney ally turned adversary who has called the 2020 presidential election “rigged” and “a travesty.”
Despite running for reelection in a ruby-red state that Trump handily won in 2016 and 2020, Cheney largely staked her campaign on the idea that claims of fraud in the 2020 election are a threat to democracy and that the lead advocate of the conspiracy theory — the former president — is a threat to the nation.
In her closing campaign ad, Cheney called the election fraud movement “a cancer that threatens our great republic” and labeled it “poisonous lies.”
Undeterred by defeat, Cheney will continue her campaign against Trump on Thursday. But this time around it has a personal tone to it — she is taking on the movement that changed the trajectory of her political career and put an expiration date on her tenure in Congress.
Cheney’s primary loss marked the culmination of her year-plus crusade against Trump, which began when she came out against his claims of election fraud and voted for impeachment following the Capitol riot and reached a boiling point after she joined the select committee investigating the rampage.
GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) also voted for impeachment and sits on the committee, but he opted not to run for reelection, leaving Cheney as the sole Republican investigating Jan. 6 and simultaneously trying to court Republican voters.
Throughout that period, the Wyoming Republican has directed pointed criticism at the former president and their party, vowing to do “whatever it takes” to keep Trump out of office and accusing GOP leaders of being “willing hostages” to him.
Now, with her reelection bid in the rearview mirror, Cheney is sharpening her criticism and taking it to a whole new level — on the other side of the aisle.
Take, for example, Kari Lake, a Republican running for governor in Arizona, and Mark Finchem, the GOP nominee for secretary of state, both of whom have pushed Trump’s false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
“For almost 40 years now I’ve been voting Republican. I don’t know that I have ever voted for a Democrat. But if I lived in Arizona now I absolutely would … for governor and for secretary of state,” Cheney said during a McCain Institute event at Arizona State University last week.
“We cannot be in a position where we elect people who will not fundamentally uphold the sanctity of elections, and I think that’s got to be, you know, more important than anything else,” she added.
One week before, Cheney told a crowd at the Texas Tribune Festival that she is “going to do everything” she can “to make sure that Kari Lake is not elected,” which includes campaigning for Democrats, if necessary.
Thursday’s Jan. 6 hearing will give Cheney perhaps her last, best platform to present this perspective to the American people and potentially her final chance to speak to a large, widespread audience through the bully pulpit that comes as a sitting lawmaker.
Cheney’s loss, and her reemergence on the Jan. 6 stage, also marks a new phase in an evolution of sorts for the congresswoman and scion of former Vice President Dick Cheney, a figure highly regarded in conservative circles.
When she first came out against Trump, Cheney — at the time the No. 3 Republican in the House — likely did so with the thought that she, the child of a revered conservative icon, could stave off some Trump-aligned elements of the GOP, salvage what was left of the establishment foundation and bring the party back to the one her father helped lead.
But her name, conservative bona fides and support from the “old guard” of the Republican Party were not enough to slow down or stop the momentum of the Trump wing of the party, which grew in popularity and influence throughout the 45th president’s tenure in Washington.
That became clear in August, when Trump and his allies led Hagemen to victory.
Cheney now appears to be grappling with where she belongs in the fractured political landscape.
“I’m going to make sure Donald Trump, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure he’s not the nominee. And if he is the nominee, I won’t be a Republican,” Cheney said at the Texas Tribune Festival when asked about her party affiliation in the next election.
While Cheney’s days as a congresswoman are numbered, she has vowed to continue her campaign against Trump and his election fraud claims.
“To accept, honorably, the outcome of elections. And tonight, Harriet Hageman has received the most votes in this primary. She won. I called her to concede the race. This primary election is over. But now the real work begins,” Cheney said the night of her race.
“So, I ask you tonight to join me. As we leave here, let us resolve that we will stand together — Republicans, Democrats and independents — against those who would destroy our republic,” she later added.
It is unclear what form that newfound campaign will take.
The morning after she lost, Cheney in an interview said she is “thinking about” a White House bid. Her spokesperson also said she is planning to launch an organization “to educate the American people about the ongoing threat to our Republic, and to mobilize a unified effort to oppose any Donald Trump campaign for president.”
Her comments and post-election moves are fueling talk of a potential independent bid for the White House in 2024.
According to a poll from The Economist and YouGov, Cheney’s favorability rating among Democrats far outpaces her approval among Republicans. Sixty-four percent of Democrats said they had a favorable opinion of Cheney, compared to just 15 percent of Republicans.
Asked during an event at Syracuse University this month if it is “painful” to have liberal Democrats in her corner as a lifelong Republican, Cheney responded, “I’m not choosy these days,” letting out a laugh.