Cheney clashes with Trump

She’s scolded President Trump for continuing to push a false smear that “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough had murdered a congressional aide. 

She took a veiled jab at Trump and his allies in the White House and on Capitol Hill for not wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic. And just this week, she expressed alarm at why the president and vice president had not been briefed on intelligence that Russia had offered to pay the Taliban a bounty to kill U.S. troops.

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the highest-ranking GOP woman in the Capitol and the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, has been challenging Trump on key issues — from national security and his handling of the health crisis to his personal Twitter attacks — in an era where Republicans are expected to march in lockstep with Trump or risk facing political retribution.

Her high-profile breaks with Trump have raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill, fueling speculation that the ambitious House GOP Conference chairwoman is positioning herself for a post-Trump world where there will be an all-out war for the soul of the Republican Party. 

But some of her closest friends and colleagues say it’s the 53-year-old mother of five’s long-held convictions and principles that are guiding her moves — not any carefully laid political strategy.   

“I don’t have any doubt about her strong support of the president, but when she differs she’s not afraid to point that out,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who has known the Cheney family for decades. “I think she’s just got her own style and she’s not changing that for anybody. … She is the same Liz Cheney she’s always been; she doesn’t bend with the political wind.”

Cheney, the No. 3 Republican in leadership, declined to be interviewed for this story when approached in the Capitol. 

Cheney’s foreign policy differences with Trump are no surprise. Like her father, who’s been involved in nearly every major U.S. conflict since Vietnam, Liz Cheney is a staunch defense hawk and interventionist who has often clashed with the Trump team’s isolationist, “America First” policies.

Last fall, Cheney ripped Trump’s plan to invite Taliban leaders to Camp David for peace talks, all without mentioning the president by name. “Camp David is where America’s leaders met to plan our response after al Qaeda, supported by the Taliban, killed 3000 Americans on 9/11,” she tweeted. “No member of the Taliban should set foot there. Ever.”

Cheney, a former top State Department official, also said it was “wrong” for Trump to personally attack Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, while she was testifying during a televised House impeachment hearing. And she blasted Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria as a “catastrophic mistake” that threatens America’s national security.

This past weekend, Cheney, a member of the Armed Services Committee, again took to Twitter — Trump’s favorite social media platform — to question why Trump appeared to be unaware of U.S. intelligence of a Russian operation to pay the Taliban bounties to kill American soldiers. 

“1. Why weren’t the president or vice president briefed? … 2. Who did know and when? 3. What has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?” Cheney tweeted.

But in recent weeks, Cheney’s splits with Trump have extended far beyond foreign policy. At a May news conference, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), one of Trump’s die-hard loyalists, dodged a question about the president’s unfounded allegation that MSNBC’s Scarborough was involved in the untimely death of one of his congressional aides. Moments later, Cheney told reporters that Trump should “stop tweeting about Joe Scarborough,” saying it’s causing “great pain to the family of the young woman who died.”

What was remarkable about the exchange was that a reporter from The Hill had been asking Cheney about masks. Cheney, unprompted, had turned the conversation to Trump’s disturbing attacks on Scarborough.

Cheney’s recent tweet about masks set tongues wagging in the Capitol.

Republicans interviewed for this story said they saw the tweet — a photo of her father sporting a mask with the caption “Dick Cheney says WEAR A MASK. #realmenwearmasks” — as a not-so-veiled swipe against Trump, who has refused to wear a mask despite advice from his own health officials that the face coverings help stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

“She and her father and her mother have similar philosophies — they are strong on foreign policy. She’s always been a hawk,” said longtime Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), the former Homeland Security Committee chairman who worked with Dick Cheney on national security issues in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

“I just don’t know if [her other breaks with Trump] are part of an overall long-term strategy or just she’s just doing what she thinks is the right thing and seeing how it works out in the end,” King added. “I think she has good instincts day to day.”

If Trump is ousted in November, showing some daylight with the president on key issues could help set Cheney apart from potential leadership rivals, including McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who have hitched their wagon to Trump and defend him at every turn.

“The congresswoman has spoken truth to power on the pandemic, Russia. … The contrast with Kevin McCarthy is so stark that Cheney will likely move to the top GOP House spot in a post-Trump Republican Party,” Scarborough tweeted

She surprised many in January by passing on an open Senate seat in Wyoming. But Dick Cheney had been a House guy, holding the same at-large Wyoming seat and GOP Conference chair leadership post that his daughter would take over decades later. Sources close to the younger Cheney said she saw a brighter political future — and perhaps easier path to climb the leadership ladder — in the House than in the Senate, where she would have been a freshman backbencher.

GOP lawmakers say they certainly could see her running for president one day. Cheney is a “national figure” who has the benefit of having one of the best “free” political advisers, her 79-year-old father, Cole said. 

But the top job in the House is more likely given the rapid ascent of the two-term lawmaker. 

“She wants to be Speaker some day,” said a close friend who advised her as she contemplated a Senate bid.

Other allies point out that, on the whole, she has been very supportive of Trump. Last year, Liz and Dick Cheney hosted a fundraiser for Trump’s reelection in Jackson Hole, Wyo. And she was a strong defender of the president during the Democrats’ impeachment process, calling it a “disgraceful” and “tragic” abuse of power.

So far in public, Cheney has avoided taking any incoming fire from the mercurial president, who has ended the political careers of outspoken GOP critics like former Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.) and former Rep. Mark Sanford (S.C.).

In part, that’s because Cheney never mentions Trump by name when criticizing his policies or actions. It’s also because Cheney, a member of one of the great political families in modern Republican politics, is described by her GOP colleagues as a strong, smart, able and articulate leader.

But Cheney hasn’t completely flown under Trump’s radar. In some White House meetings, Trump has been known to take playful jabs at Cheney, referring to her as the “neo-con” or saying past administrations — like her father’s — simply couldn’t get the job done, according to a person who attended those meetings.

Another source familiar with the meetings said Cheney frequently will accompany groups of her colleagues to meet with Trump to discuss their position on important issues. When Trump has singled her out, Cheney responds by standing up for the policies she thinks is best for the country, the source said. 

“I think he likes her moxy and enjoys the banter,” said one Armed Services Committee lawmaker who has been in meetings with Trump and Cheney.

Tags Afghanistan Bob Corker Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Jeff Flake Joe Scarborough Kevin McCarthy Liz Cheney Marie Yovanovitch Mark Sanford Pete King Republican Party Russia russian bounties Steve Scalise Syria Tom Cole

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