GOP leaders are facing mounting internal pressure to discipline a pair of anti-Trump Republicans taking part in the special investigation into the Capitol attack of Jan. 6.
Conservative lawmakers are up in arms that Reps. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in Trump, allies launch onslaught as midterms kick into gear The Memo: Never Trumpers sink into gloom as Gonzalez bows out MORE (R-Wyo.) and Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerThe Memo: Never Trumpers sink into gloom as Gonzalez bows out Kinzinger says Trump 'winning' because many Republicans 'have remained silent' 'Justice for J6' rally puts GOP in awkward spot MORE (R-Ill.) — both appointed to the select committee by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats seek to cool simmering tensions Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid House Democrats unveil legislation to curtail presidential power MORE (D-Calif.) — have taken on the task with relish, using the panel’s first hearing on Tuesday as a televised platform to bash former President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE for instigating the riot.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), the head of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, sought during a closed-door meeting Tuesday to exile both Cheney and Kinzinger from the Republican conference. And other members of the group are piling on, maintaining that the defiant pair have forfeited their rights to membership in the GOP, including their seats on committees.
“I think they've left the Republican Party, based on their actions,” said Rep. Bob Good, a first-term Virginia Republican and member of the Freedom Caucus. “I think that they should be removed from their committees as Republicans. And I support an effort that took place this morning in the conference meeting.”
A second Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Lauren BoebertLauren BoebertWatchdog group seeks ethics probe over McCarthy's Jan. 6 comments Jan. 6 panel seeks records of those involved in 'Stop the Steal' rally Jan. 6 panel to ask for preservation of phone records of GOP lawmakers who participated in Trump rally: report MORE (R-Colo.), tweeted Tuesday that Cheney and Kinzinger should be banned from private GOP conference meetings “while effectively working for Pelosi,” while a third, Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), echoed her colleagues’ calls for revenge.
“I personally think that if someone is going to serve on a committee that was not selected by [Republican leaders], then perhaps they should no longer be on their committees or part of the conference,” Lesko told The Hill in a brief interview.
The outcry on the right is creating a headache for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyWoodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China Thompson says he hopes Jan 6. committee can complete work by 'early spring' Juan Williams: Shame on the anti-mandate Republicans MORE (R-Calif.) and other GOP leaders, who have eyes on flipping control of the House next year and are scrambling to keep their conference united to advance that goal.
They have few good options when it comes to Cheney, the daughter of a former vice president, and Kinzinger, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Kicking the two out of the conference would only highlight the stark Republican divisions when it comes to Trump, the mercurial figure at the center of both the Jan. 6 attack and the select committee’s probe into it.
Yet keeping them in the conference would ensure that the anti-Trump Republicans would continue to associate with the rest of the conference, exacerbating the internal discord with conservatives and distracting from their attacks on Biden administration policies.
Faced with that dilemma on Tuesday, Republican leaders punted, denying Biggs a vote on his expulsion resolution but kicking it to a yet-unnamed committee. The decision essentially rejected the Freedom Caucus’s demand to get tougher on Cheney and Kinzinger.
The move marked a gamble for McCarthy, who has designs on the Speakership if his party takes back the House and will need the support of the Freedom Caucus to realize that goal. Indeed, it was the conservative flank that blocked his ascension to the Speaker’s office in 2015, following the retirement of Rep. John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE (R-Ohio).
Good, the first-term Virginian, offered one word for the leadership’s strategy: “Disappointing.”
The GOP clash arrived on a somber day on Capitol Hill, where the select committee heard highly emotional testimony from four police officers who said they’ve suffered lasting damage — physical and mental — after defending the Capitol complex from the violent mob on Jan. 6.
McCarthy last week had pulled his nominees from the special panel to protest Pelosi’s decision to reject a pair of ardent Trump defenders, Reps. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanAllies see rising prospect of Trump 2024 White House bid Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee Watchdog group seeks ethics probe over McCarthy's Jan. 6 comments MORE (R-Ohio) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.). That strategy was hailed by most of the GOP conference, but it also left Trump defenseless on the special panel. To shift attention away from that probe, GOP leaders are now blaming Pelosi for the violence of Jan. 6.
“Nancy Pelosi bears responsibility as Speaker of the House for the tragedy that occurred on Jan. 6,” said Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikWyoming county GOP rejects effort to rescind Cheney's party status Stefanik in ad says Democrats want 'permanent election insurrection' GOP leader taking proxy voting fight to Supreme Court MORE (N.Y.), who ascended to GOP leadership in May after Cheney was knocked out for criticizing Trump.
Asked about Stefanik’s charge, Cheney was fierce.
“If I were saying the things” that Stefanik said, “I’d be deeply ashamed of myself,” Cheney said in an interview with CNN.
It was not the only obstacle McCarthy was forced to navigate in recent days. The Freedom Caucus this week sent a letter urging the GOP leader, by week’s end, to force a floor vote to “vacate the chair” and oust Pelosi as Speaker for vetoing Jordan and Banks. McCarthy responded Monday by forcing a vote on a resolution merely condemning Pelosi for her actions.
Biggs told The Hill that McCarthy’s maneuver didn’t go far enough: “Condemn versus vacate the chair? I’d rather vacate the chair.”
After Jan. 6, Cheney has emerged as Democrats’ favorite Republican, and they gave her a prominent role during and after Tuesday’s hearing. Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in Thompson says he hopes Jan 6. committee can complete work by 'early spring' Jan. 6 committee taps former Bush administration official as top lawyer MORE (D-Miss.), chairman of the Jan. 6 panel, allowed Cheney to make opening remarks immediately after his own, then positioned her in front of the television cameras during a news conference right after the hearing.
Both Cheney and Kinzinger appear unfazed by any threats of retribution from their GOP colleagues, saying they are solely focused on upholding their oath to the Constitution and getting the facts of the events of Jan. 6.
“We had a big attack on Jan. 6. We heard very emotional testimony today. And that's what's on the forefront of my mind. And if people want to get petty — that's fine,” Kinzinger, flanked by his fellow panel members, said after the hearing.
“This is a historic moment and this is a democracy-defending moment. And no matter the consequences, me and I know Liz will stand for democracy.”