Republicans rally to keep Cheney in power
The establishment wing of the GOP won a rare and dramatic victory Wednesday night when Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) beat back an attempt by Donald Trump’s staunchest allies to knock her from power as retribution for voting to impeach the former president just three weeks earlier.
The 145-61 vote in favor of keeping Cheney in leadership, conducted by secret ballot, followed a marathon closed-door “family discussion” in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center, where dozens of House Republicans lined up to voice their frustrations with the Wyoming representative, the most powerful GOP woman in Congress, and called for her removal as conference chair, a role that entails leading the party’s messaging efforts.
The vote was the latest — and most dramatic — manifestation of the civil war raging within the GOP over the direction the party should take in the post-Trump era, a debate that has become increasingly contentious following the deadly attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The critics’ resolution — led by House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) — maintained that Cheney, by attacking the Republicans’ standard-bearer, had forfeited her right to represent the party at the leadership table.
Yet Cheney found a powerful ally in House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who had previously voiced “concerns” over Cheney’s impeachment vote but rose to defend her in an impassioned speech during Wednesday’s meeting. McCarthy said he wanted to end the internal feud and that his leadership team should remain intact.
“People can have differences of opinion. … Liz has a right to vote her conscience. And at the end of the day we’ll be united,” McCarthy said during a break in the midst of the meeting.
It was far from the only drama of the day.
GOP lawmakers also spent a good chunk of the meeting grappling with how to handle Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a past QAnon conspiracy theorist who has come under fire for a host of violent and racist social media posts she made in recent years.
Greene expressed support for executing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), endorsed the debunked notion that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a hoax, floated a bizarre conspiracy theory that the California wildfires were orchestrated by a wealthy Jewish banking family, and claimed the deadly school shootings at Sandy Hook and Parkland were “false flag” events staged by anti-gun activists.
In response, Democratic leaders have demanded that McCarthy boot Greene from two top-tier committee assignments: Budget and Education. If he fails to act, Democrats have warned, they’ll move legislation to remove her themselves — a vote expected to take place on Thursday.
Responding to the Democrats’ ultimatum, McCarthy said he’d offered to shift Greene from the Education panel to the Small Business Committee, a proposal that was rejected by Democrats.
Rather than stir an outcry from Trump and the GOP base voters sympathetic to Greene, McCarthy shifted the blame toward Democrats, accusing them of overreaching in their effort to police speech made before Greene was elected.
“I made that offer to the Democrats, and they chose to do something Congress has never done,” McCarthy said.
During the meeting, Greene did apologize for certain past remarks, telling colleagues she regrets her controversial statements and embrace of QAnon, according to two sources in the meeting. But she added that she felt nothing would ever be good enough for Democrats or the media.
Some in the room stood and applauded her.
Democrats, meanwhile, lambasted Republicans for the effort to reprimand Cheney while avoiding any similar rebuke for Greene.
Greene “perpetrated QAnon lunacy,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
“Yet they’re not having a meeting about her. They’re having a meeting about somebody who showed great political courage and principle,” he added, in reference to Cheney.
The Wyoming Republican, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, has faced a barrage of internal criticism after she savaged Trump for his role in the deadly Capitol attack, which she deemed the greatest betrayal by a sitting president against his own country in U.S. history.
“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” she said in explaining her support for impeachment. “Everything that followed was his doing.”
The backlash was immediate. Conservative Trump allies quickly lashed out, accusing Cheney of violating former President Reagan’s celebrated 11th amendment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) took the extraordinary step of visiting Wyoming last week to drum up opposition to his own GOP colleague in hopes of sparking a primary challenge that will eject Cheney from Congress altogether.
Wednesday’s resolution to topple her from leadership was the critics’ first formal attempt to orchestrate her downfall — an extraordinary step highlighting the degree of division dogging Republicans as they engage in a torturous routine of soul-searching following Trump’s exit from the White House.
Aside from the impeachment vote itself, supporters of the resolution had bashed Cheney for announcing her support for impeachment a day before the vote, handing Democrats potent talking points that could be used against her fellow Republicans.
“The facts here aren’t in dispute. On the eve of impeachment, the conference chair, responsible for messaging, put out a statement that the Democrats and the mainstream media used against us for the entirety of the following day,” Rosendale told his colleagues in the meeting.
“At a tough time for all of us, under fire from everywhere, she made our lives harder,” Rosendale said.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the former Freedom Caucus leader and close Trump ally, gave a passionate speech stating that Cheney is fit to serve in Congress but lost her right to sit in leadership.
Cheney “can stay on committee and serve her constituents,” he said, according to a GOP source familiar with his remarks. “But she’s not suited to serve a conference where 96 percent are on the opposite side of her.”
But Cheney, who has repeatedly clashed with Trump loyalists over her hawkish foreign policy views and her push to primary a sitting Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie (Ky.), before she retracted her endorsement of his opponent after social media posts showed him making inflammatory remarks, remained defiant during Wednesday’s gathering, telling colleagues she would not apologize for her vote to impeach Trump, sources said.
A triumphant Cheney said after the vote, “We’re not going to be divided, and we’re not going to be in a situation where people can pick off any member of leadership.”
Nine other Republicans joined her in that historic vote to charge Trump with inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection that claimed five lives, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who was honored in a congressional ceremony Wednesday morning.
Numerous Cheney allies — including Republican Reps. Ann Wagner (Mo.), Dan Crenshaw (Texas), Chip Roy (Texas) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) — came to her defense during the private meeting, lauding her for standing by her principles.
“Liz Cheney is a person of character, a person of conviction, and she sets the standard for speaking out on things she believes in,” Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) told the room, sources said.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), whom Cheney nudged out of the conference chair job in 2018, told the room that Cheney hasn’t supported her in the past but that this wasn’t the right time to make a change.
“It’s clear that people had a lot that they needed to get out on both sides of it. But ultimately, I think the conference came to the right decision, and I’m grateful for Kevin’s leadership on it,” Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), who also supported impeaching Trump, told The Hill.
“Now, I hope we can stop the circular firing squad and start moving towards trying to take the majority again,” Gonzalez said.
Updated 10:30 p.m.