Conservatives clash with Cheney over her support for Fauci, Massie primary challenger
Conservative lawmakers clashed with House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (Wyo.) on Tuesday over her public support of Anthony Fauci and for previously backing a primary challenger to Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).
Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Chip Roy (R-Texas) got in a heated argument with Cheney at a closed-door GOP meeting described by one source in the room as “a war zone,” with lawmakers raising their voices during the confrontation.
Tensions flared when members were allowed to step up to microphones in the room to raise questions and concerns. Gaetz asked about the House GOP leadership’s policy on getting involved in primaries, telling leaders that if they are going to get involved, there will be attacks coming back at them, according to multiple sources in the room.
The question appeared directed at Cheney, who had made donations to Massie’s primary challenger, Todd McMurty, but later requested they be returned after racist posts on social media emerged. She also retracted her endorsement of McMurty.
Cheney initially dismissed Gaetz’s remarks on Tuesday, noting it was not a political conference meeting, but quipped that she was “looking forward to your documentary,” referring to Gaetz’s upcoming HBO documentary “The Swamp,” according to sources.
Gaetz then said he deserved an answer, before House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) intervened.
“McCarthy stepped in to conduct a separate meeting among the aggrieved parties and Liz to discuss issues,” one GOP lawmaker told The Hill. “McCarthy tried to defuse it and tell folks he would schedule a separate meeting.”
After the meeting, Gaetz went public with his criticisms of Cheney, tweeting: “Liz Cheney has worked behind the scenes (and now in public) against @realDonaldTrump and his agenda.”
“House Republicans deserve better as our Conference Chair,” he added. “Liz Cheney should step down or be removed.”
Massie, who was next in line to speak at the microphone during Tuesday’s meeting, immediately went after Cheney for initially supporting his primary challenger. Cheney told Massie — who has butted heads with Cheney on a number of policy issues — that he was a “special case” and that his “problem was with the president, not me.”
Massie then shot back that his problem was with her, not President Trump.
Trump previously called for Massie’s ouster after he threatened to jeopardize the quick passage of a record $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill in late March.
But the attacks on Cheney didn’t stop there.
Roy blasted the Wyoming Republican for championing Fauci — who has come under fire by a number of conservatives and White House staff — noting that his Democratic opponent for November has retweeted Cheney’s comments in support of the nation’s top infectious diseases expert.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) followed Roy at the microphones and defended Massie, calling him a “fighter” and saying they need more members like him in the conference.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) added that he disagreed with Cheney’s characterization of Massie as a special case and argued that she was undermining Trump by breaking with him on some key issues.
Jordan, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told the room he didn’t intend to speak on the issue but then raised concerns about the number of times Cheney has broken with and criticized the president.
Cheney later described it as a “robust” conversation and that it’s good for the conference to have difficult discussions and debates to get on the same page.
“Listen, we had a robust exchange of views,” she told The Hill after the meeting. “You know, we have disagreements, and so that’s part of having a healthy conference debate. But I think that it’s a healthy thing to have those kinds of disagreements, and I would imagine that we will be able to make sure that we’re all together and I’ll look forward to being in the majority and having many of those same people want to be team players when were in the majority.”
Cheney added that Republicans should be focused on coronavirus, not making personal attacks.
Massie declined to go into detail about the exchange.
“You know, I’m trying to get our conference back together, so I’ll let other people comment. I don’t want to talk about what was said in there,” he said.
Updated at 1:05 p.m.