Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) remains safe as the minority leader. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) survived a recent censure vote at home. And few on Capitol Hill are going after the likes of Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) or John Katko (R-N.Y.).
Yet for Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican, the cost of denouncing former President Trump appears almost certain to be her expulsion from leadership, perhaps as early as next week. And that’s sparking a backlash from some Republicans who see a vicious double standard in the GOP’s hard-charging effort to demote the most powerful woman in the party’s ranks.
“The women don’t get the same slack that the men get,” former Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), a Cheney ally, said this week by phone. “And I think a lot of the men are attacking her because they resent that she’s got guts and they don’t.
“They’re on their knees for Trump and she’s standing up for herself,” Comstock added. “And that’s kind of an embarrassing thing if you’re the guy on your knees.”
The pushback arrives as House Republicans — pressured by Trump and dismayed by Cheney’s rebukes of him — are charging ahead with plans to oust her as the head of the party conference. Because Cheney is the only woman in the top tiers of leadership, the emerging consensus is to replace her with another woman: Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), a former moderate who veered hard right during Trump’s tenure to become on of his most vocal supporters.
The power shuffle has been endorsed by the top Republicans, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.), who say they simply can’t keep Cheney in place if she won’t join the rest of leadership in embracing Trump’s message — or at least remaining quiet about it. A party that’s fractured on Trump, they warn, will have longer odds of winning back the House in 2022, when Republicans see a good chance to flip the chamber.
“I have heard from members concerned about her ability to carry out the job as conference chair, to carry out the message,” McCarthy told Fox News on Tuesday.
Yet that argument is falling flat with a growing list of GOP women, former lawmakers and even the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, which warned this week that “purging” Cheney for calling out Trump’s lies about the election outcome “would diminish the party” and hurt its prospects in 2022.
Republicans had scored big wins with female and minority candidates in the 2020 cycle, and are hoping to build on that track record next year. But ousting Cheney, some party voices are warning, will sabotage that cause.
“The message that’s being sent by the highest member of Republicans in Congress is that women like me and Liz Cheney who refuse to bend the knee to President Trump, but still remain loyal Republicans, we don’t have a place in this party,” Meghan McCain, vocal Trump critic and co-host of ABC’s “The View,” said on her program Wednesday.
McCain, the daughter of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), berated Trump as “Cheeto Jesus” and warned Republicans that ousting Cheney would “bloodlet” from the GOP college-educated and suburban women voters who will be crucial to winning back power.
“It’s the most asinine politics I have seen in a really, really long time. … And if you do this … I promise you there will be consequences,” McCain continued in her more than two-minute rant. “So go ahead — go ahead in this sausage-fest of MAGA up on Capitol Hill. Pull her out and put another woman in who will do and say anything you want for President Trump: ‘The election wasn’t stolen’; ‘He’s Jesus’; ‘It’s only Trumpism going forward.’
“See where this lands us in midterms.”
Democrats are hoping such premonitions ring true — and are highlighting the Cheney saga to call attention to the GOP infighting.
On Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), no stranger to the gender wars, released a mock “help wanted” ad for Cheney’s replacement. “Non-threatening female,” read the title.
Cheney has already faced one challenge to her leadership spot this year after she voted in January, along with nine other House Republicans, to support Trump’s second impeachment, which found him complicit in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Cheney easily survived the secret-ballot challenge, 145 to 61 — an overwhelming vote of confidence suggesting that most Republicans in the conference disapproved of Trump’s handling of the Capitol rampage, even if they didn’t feel free to say so publicly.
Since then, however, Cheney has continued to buck the party line on Trump-related issues, particularly in calling on fellow Republicans to disavow Trump’s false claim to victory, warning that it’s “poisoning our democratic system.”
“The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution,” she wrote Wednesday in a Washington Post op-ed.
The blowback has been fierce. Trump’s most loyal conservative allies are accusing Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, of betraying the party. And GOP leaders, fearing they can’t win back the House without Trump’s blessing, have joined the chorus.
In Stefanik, 36, GOP leaders think they have an appealing replacement. The Harvard-educated New York millennial was, at the time of her first election in 2014, the youngest woman ever to enter Congress. And she saw her star rise during Trump’s first impeachment, in 2019, when she emerged as one of his most prominent defenders.
Trump on Wednesday helped clear Stefanik’s path into the leadership ranks, knocking Cheney for her hawkish approach to foreign policy — “a warmongering fool,” he called her — and hailing Stefanik as more committed to Trump’s populist “America First” agenda.
“Elise Stefanik is a far superior choice,” he said.
Yet some caution that the simple act of replacing one woman with another won’t assuage the concerns of Republican voters alienated by Trump’s mercurial temperament and controversial tenure. In fact, it may exacerbate them.
“It’s an existential crisis for the party to cynically throw out somebody for stating the truth and then say, ‘OK, let’s go find a woman who makes Donald Trump happy.’ You know, really? That’s our standard now?” said Comstock. “Woe to the woman who’s going to be the handmaiden to what is basically a male assault on [Cheney], and has been from the start.”
“Any woman who would take that position under these circumstances, it’s not going to do well for them or for the party,” Comstock continued. “Because … your role is: smile and read the talking points. Then we like you. Then it’s OK to be a woman who smiles and reads the talking points. That’s not where you want to be. That’s not equal.”
To be sure, there are key differences, outside of gender considerations, between Cheney’s denouncements of Trump and those from other Republicans who have criticized his behavior since the election. Her role in leadership is the most obvious — a prominence that makes her an easier target than the other House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, including Kinzinger, Upton, Gonzalez and Katko.
Romney, though once the party’s standard-bearer, is also not a member of Senate leadership. And while McConnell has also sought to distance the party from Trump, he voted against convicting the former president during February’s impeachment trial, and he’s largely avoided questions about Trump since the former president left office — a strategy that’s insulated him from attacks by Trump’s allies in the upper chamber.
“I don’t know if there’s a different standard on that,” former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said, comparing McConnell’s situation to that of Cheney. “But what Mitch had is, he had a lot of cavalry behind him.”
Not all Trump critics agree there is sexism at play. Former Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) said Senate and House GOP leaders took different positions on Trump’s false claims that the election was rigged and stolen: McConnell and Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) rejected Trump’s election lies from the start; McCarthy and Scalise perpetuated the lie, while Cheney refuted it.
“Senate GOP leadership made it clear from the beginning that Trump discipleship was neither expected nor required. House leadership sent mixed messages,” Curbelo, who served with Cheney, told The Hill. “That’s one reason why Senate Republicans are fairly united and House Republicans find themselves in an uncomfortable power struggle.”
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