GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger
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 Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) — both appointed to the select committee by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (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 Trump 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 Boebert (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 McCarthy (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 Boehner (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 Jordan (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 Stefanik (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 Thompson (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.”