House

Cheney presses Republicans to back Bannon contempt vote

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) pressured her Republican colleagues to support a vote to refer former Trump White House strategist Stephen Bannon for criminal prosecution, encouraging them to buck House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Cheney called on Republicans to back the contempt vote during an appearance at the House Rules Committee that sets the terms of debate for Thursday's vote.

The Wyoming Republican, who was booted from House GOP leadership earlier this year for her repeated criticisms of former President Trump, put a guilt trip on her colleagues, saying they shouldn't let fear of the former president prevent them from doing the right thing.

"I've heard from a number of my colleagues in the last several days who say they, quote, 'Just don't want this target on their back.' They're just trying to keep their heads down, they don't want to anger Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, who has been especially active in attempting to block the investigation of events of Jan. 6, despite the fact that he clearly called for such a commission," said Cheney, who voted to impeach Trump for his conduct on Jan. 6.

"A week after, I asked each one of you to step back from the brink. I urge you to do what you know is right, to think of the long arc of history. We are told that it bends towards justice. But it does so only because of the actions of men and women in positions of public trust. ... Will you be able to say you did everything possible to ensure Americans got the truth about those events, or did you look away? Did you make partisan excuses and accept the unacceptable?"

Cheney is the vice chair of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot, which on Tuesday voted to hold Bannon in contempt after he refused to provide documents or appear for a slated deposition.

The Rules Committee likewise forwarded the matter, voting 9 to 4 to advance the resolution to the full House.

Wednesday's Rules hearing further revealed the rift in the Republican Party, offering a preview of the pushback Republicans are likely to offer during the Thursday vote. 

Republicans offered a meandering defense of Bannon that spent considerable time focusing on the border and other policy issues.

"The average American, when they wake up, I don't think one of the first 100 things they think about is Steve Bannon and his podcast," Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said after Cheney and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) the Jan. 6 committee chair, referenced comments Bannon made on his podcast prior to Jan. 6.

"The things he said before and after Jan. 6, I think that is a uniquely Washington obsession, and it wouldn't be so damaging to our country if it wasn't absorbing the capacity of the Congress to meet the actual challenges."

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who was blocked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) from serving on the Jan. 6 committee, said the events of Jan. 6 were already investigated by the FBI, something he said was the appropriate channel.

"The actions of the January committee, I believe, are a complete assault on Americans liberty," he said, adding that it is inappropriate to subpoena those who had applied for a permit for the rallies or to ask major tech and social media companies to preserve records of those discussing Jan. 6.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) criticized the two for keeping so little of their case focused on Bannon.

"Listening to Mr. Jordan and Mr. Gaetz reminded me of the old law school kind of statement: If you don't have the facts, argue the law. If you don't have the law, baffle them with bull," he said. 

"And I'd have to say to my friends, Mr. Gaetz and Mr Jordan: I've never heard such an effort to obfuscate the question that we have before us."

House Rules Committee ranking member Tom Cole (R-Okla.) called the vote part of "the House majority's political agenda."

"Unfortunately this resolution comes to us as a result of an inherently political process driven by an inherently political select committee. Today's action is unusual to say the least. One of the fundamental questions we should all ask is, should Congress be investigating a private citizen?" he asked. 

Cole's comments earned condemnation from Democrats and Cheney, who pointed to an initial proposal brokered with Republicans that would have created a 9/11-style commission to review Jan. 6.

"We have to be honest and recognize it was Republicans who killed that," Cheney said.

Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said that Republicans suddenly reversed their support for that bill, which would have allowed Republicans and Democrats an equal number of appointees to the commission.

"What happened was the former president didn't like it. And all of a sudden, the majority of support in the Republican side evaporated," he said. 

"I have great respect for all my colleagues on the Republican side, but every single one of them voted 'no' on the creation of this select committee, and to say that it is somehow partisan or political now, it is frustrating and it is not to me an accurate telling of the history of what is happening," McGovern said.

The hearing also briefly turned to Jordan's own role in the day's events.

"I don't know another member of Congress who is as deeply enmeshed in all of this as you are," McGovern told him.

Jordan has acknowledged speaking with Trump the day of the attack but has denied any involvement in its planning.

"Of course I talked to the President, I talked to him that day - I've been clear about that. I don't recall the number of times, but it's not about me. I know you want to make it about that," Jordan said.

"I'm not trying to whitewash anything. Republicans have been consistent; we've condemned violence every stinking time it happened."

-Updated at 2:11 p.m.

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