Gender politics hound GOP in Cheney drama
House Republicans have a gender problem, and it is increasingly an issue as the drama around Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) engulfs the conference.
Republicans are actively plotting Cheney’s ouster as chairwoman of the House Republican Conference over her repeated criticisms of former President Trump, but doing so would remove the only woman on Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) leadership team.
It’s an awkward reality for a party vying to win back female suburban voters in next year’s midterm elections, at a time when there are fewer than three-dozen women in the 212-strong GOP conference.
The thorny dynamics have already prompted one male prospect to abandon plans to seek the seat if Cheney is removed — and given Republicans a broader sense of urgency to replace her with another woman.
Two Trump allies, Reps. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), have been making calls to colleagues to gauge support should Cheney be pushed out, lawmakers said. Another possibility is Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.).
One Republican source, who frequently talks to McCarthy, said the GOP leader probably would favor Stefanik, who is close to McCarthy and who was one of Trump’s chief defenders during his first impeachment proceedings in 2019. The source said Walorski, a five-term lawmaker whom McCarthy tapped to lead Republicans on the House Ethics Committee, also would be acceptable.
“It will be Elise or Jackie,” one plugged-in, senior House Republican told The Hill, citing the need to have a woman at the leadership table.
Aside from Cheney, McCarthy’s leadership team is almost entirely comprised of white men. Dumping Cheney has created a potentially embarrassing situation for Republican leaders who are both touting the diversity of their 2020 freshman class and hoping to broaden their tent again in the 2022 midterms, when they see a good shot at winning back the House.
“If you cast the only woman out, do you want to put a white male in?” asked former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.).
Right on cue, one of those ambitious white males took himself out of the running on Tuesday. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), the head of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) who’s been publicly critical of Cheney, told The Hill he won’t run for the No. 3 post if Cheney is ousted.
There is “zero percent chance” he will give up the top job at the RSC, where he is “enjoying the role and having an impact on the GOP agenda,” Banks said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Still other Republican men aren’t ceding ground. Rep. Jason Smith (Mo.), a former member of leadership who is now the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, and Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), the previous RSC chairman who helps Cheney manage the GOP conference, are said to be interested in the No. 3 job.
“Many in the conference are offended being told that we are ineligible because we are men,” said one male GOP lawmaker. “There are several very capable members who are interested in having conversations and reject the notion that it has to be a woman.”
Other Republicans are worried the party will lose a powerful asset by dumping Cheney.
“They need a Liz Cheney in there somewhere. They need to show to the non-Trump Republicans, who they need in the suburbs, that the party has the welcome mat out for some Republican voters who are maybe not completely sold on Trump and ended up defecting,” said Davis. “On the other hand, you’ve got to have leaders working together, not across purposes.”
“She took her vote [to impeach Trump],” he added. “I think it behooves her not to rub it in every opportunity she gets.”
The early jockeying comes amid a fresh push by McCarthy allies to oust Cheney from the leadership team. The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Liz Cheney easily beat back an effort by a small group of Trump loyalists in February to force her out after she joined the charge to impeach the 45th president for egging on a mob of his supporters that carried out the violent Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
But in recent days and weeks, Cheney has continued to speak out against Trump, McCarthy and their allies, warning that their “big lie” that the 2020 election was rigged and stolen is “poisoning our democratic system.”
McCarthy and his allies have argued that Cheney, who is in charge of GOP messaging, has become too much of a distraction, highlighting divisions in the party and undermining their efforts to retake control of the House next year.
“I’ve had it with her. You know, I’ve lost confidence,” McCarthy told a Fox News host in an off-camera exchange that was caught on a hot mic, Axios reported. “Well, someone just has to bring a motion” to oust her, “but I assume that will probably take place.”
The House returns from its recess on May 12, and lawmakers are expecting a vote on Cheney’s future shortly thereafter.
Stefanik is already on Trump’s radar, which could give her an edge in a coming race.
A former staffer in George W. Bush’s White House, Stefanik made history in 2014 by becoming the youngest woman elected to Congress; she was just 30. Representing a large rural northern New York district that twice went for former President Obama, Stefanik burnished a reputation as a moderate and was one of a trio of leaders of the centrist GOP Tuesday Group.
But as Trump grew in popularity back home, Stefanik embraced the MAGA crowd. Her national star rose in 2019 when she became one of the loudest and most visible Trump defenders during his first impeachment. A member of the House Intelligence Committee, she tangled with one of Trump’s chief antagonists, Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), during the panel’s hearings, and she picked apart prosecutors’ arguments during news conferences and on social media as impeachment moved to the Senate trial.
“A new Republican Star is born. Great going @EliseStefanik!” Trump tweeted to her at the time.
Some Cheney allies are warning Republicans not to count her out just yet. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), one of nine other Republicans who joined Cheney in impeaching Trump, is still standing with Cheney and will vote to keep her as conference chair.
Other Republicans are simply urging GOP leaders to resolve an issue that’s become an enormous distraction and get back to the business of being the opposition party to President Biden.
“They can have their differences behind closed doors, as they always do. They can all have their personal ambitions — that’s always happened,” said Davis. “But the Republican diaspora out there really wants these folks to work it out, to show some level of unity and reunite right now as the opposition party, and not have the fights among ourselves dominate the headlines.”
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