Cheney’s decision not to run for Senate sparks Speaker chatter

Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) unexpected decision to forgo a Senate bid has GOP colleagues speculating she has ambitions beyond her No. 3 post among House Republicans.

While many GOP lawmakers were surprised that Cheney opted against running to replace outgoing Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), particularly with her strong polling numbers, several argued that staying in the House offers her a quicker path to the top.

“She has more power and voice here. [She’s] angling to be Speaker if the top two can’t pull it off,” one GOP lawmaker said, adding that the House is “a shorter route to meaningful power than Senate backbench.”

When Cheney informed colleagues Thursday of her decision to stay in the House, she cited her commitment to helping the GOP take back the House in 2020.

“I believe I can have the biggest impact for the people of Wyoming by remaining in leadership in the House of Representatives and working to take our Republican majority back,” she said in a statement.

At a House Republican Conference meeting the same day, Cheney told the room she wants to help make House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) the next Speaker, according to multiple sources with knowledge of her remarks.

But despite her support for McCarthy, several GOP lawmakers said a “knife fight” between top members over the Speaker’s gavel or minority leader position down the line is not out of the realm of possibility.

“It’s D.C., everybody has their fangs out. I think she sees a higher profile — Speaker, president, who knows,” one GOP lawmaker said. “I would keep an eye on how close the majority becomes more and more of a reality. The knives will come out quicker and they’ll come out longer.”

In Wyoming, Enzi’s retirement sparked speculation about Cheney, said University of Wyoming professor Jim King. He said Cheney would have been the favorite in the Senate race but that she would have faced a formidable opponent in former Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.).

King also said questions about whether Cheney is really from Wyoming likely would not be revived if she continued to move up House GOP’s leadership tree.

Cheney — the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney — has seen a meteoric rise in power since first being elected to Congress in 2016, becoming the only woman in House GOP leadership after just one congressional term.

Lauded by her peers as smart, well-versed on key issues and possessing her father’s political instincts, some project she could be eyeing the top position in the conference, whether it be next term or further down the road.

The top two House Republicans — McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) — praised her decision to forgo a Senate run.

“I’m overly excited,” McCarthy told The Hill. “I think this is another sign that we’re going to win back the majority.”

Scalise said he’s “excited” about her decision.

“She’s been a great part of our team, and I know she had other good options presented to her, but I’m really glad she chose to stay in the House,” he said.

Things could change as November draws near, one senior GOP official told The Hill. The official highlighted the shadow Speaker’s race between McCarthy and Scalise during the last cycle, before Democrats ultimately took back the House, and argued a repeat of that could provide Cheney with an opportunity to move up the ranks.

“There are clear tensions between the top two leaders. I think she sees that,” the source said, adding she’s “not staying [in the House] just to stay” where she is now.

“She won’t challenge [McCarthy], but she will pick up the pieces,” another Republican lawmaker said. “She will go for [the] top spot when it can be achieved. … Watch the leadership games begin.”

Taking on either McCarthy or Scalise would come with its own challenges.

President Trump has tweeted support for McCarthy to become the next Speaker should Republicans take back the House, a scenario that seems unlikely in 2020. McCarthy has also broken fundraising records, outraising the two previous GOP Speakers despite being in the minority and facing the challenge of raising funds ahead of a presidential election year.

And while McCarthy dropped out of the 2015 Speaker’s race, he easily won his race against Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to secure minority leader. His role in fighting back against Trump’s impeachment has also helped him smooth over tensions with members who gained a reputation for being a thorn in leadership’s side when the GOP held the majority.

Another source said that if Republicans were to flip the House back to GOP control, it’s highly improbable anyone will attempt to oust McCarthy, since he would likely be credited with the win.

“President Trump would at least for the next two years go to bat for Kevin, specifically if it came down to him and Liz Cheney, because there are people in the administration that simply aren’t big Cheney fans and actually took Rand Paul’s side more than they have Liz Cheney when it comes to the Trump doctrine, etc.,” one senior GOP lawmaker said.

“McCarthy was smart enough to forge a relationship — it didn’t take place immediately, but eventually build that relationship — and that kind of loyalty there Trump certainly supports in return.”

The lawmaker also doesn’t see Cheney angling to challenge Scalise, who recruited her to join the leadership team, for the No. 2 position.

“She doesn’t go after Scalise, nobody can go after Scalise. Scalise is the most liked of the three,” the lawmaker said.

Others noted the political climate following the election will likely be a strong factor in what the makeup of GOP leadership will look like in 2021.

Multiple members said that in the event Trump loses the election or Republicans lose additional House seats, rank-and-file members will likely seek a leadership shake-up.

Other members also tamped down speculation Cheney is looking to edge out anyone anytime soon, noting her father was also a “House guy” and that she may be playing the long game. But some said it’s possible she’s looking to forge a deal with another leadership member for their support for a higher position later on.

“She is young and a woman. This is a longer play, four to eight years,” another said. “Trump influence will wane shortly after 2020, even assuming he wins.”


Tags Cynthia Lummis Donald Trump Jim Jordan Kevin McCarthy Liz Cheney Mike Enzi Rand Paul Steve Scalise

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