McConnell sidesteps Cheney-Trump drama
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sidestepped weighing in on a days-long drama involving Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) comments on former President Trump, that may result in her ouster as the No. 3 House Republican.
Asked if he was going to step in to try to help Cheney keep her post, McConnell told reporters in Kentucky that “100 percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration.”
“I think the best way to look at what this new administration — the president may have won the nomination, but Bernie Sanders won the argument,” he added about Biden, referring to progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Pressed if he was concerned that a sizable portion of the GOP base believes the 2020 election was stolen — a false claim dismissed by election experts but spread by the former president — McConnell pivoted again.
“One hundred percent of my focus is on standing up to this administration. … What we have in the United States Senate is total unity from Susan Collins to Ted Cruz in opposition to what the new Biden administration is trying to do to this country,” McConnell said.
McConnell’s response to the Cheney drama is a shift from when he came to her aid during a previous unsuccessful attempt to remove her as House GOP conference chair earlier this year.
“Liz Cheney is a leader with deep convictions and the courage to act on them,” McConnell said at the time. “She is an important leader in our party and in our nation. I am grateful for her service and look forward to continuing to work with her on the crucial issues facing our nation.”
While Cheney survived the earlier attempt to oust her, House Republicans appear likely to call another vote as soon as this month.
Trump has backed Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), a vocal ally of the former president, should there be an opening in House GOP leadership.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House GOP Whip Steve Scalise (La.) — the No. 1 and No. 2 House Republicans — are both backing Cheney’s ouster. Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump earlier this year, and she hasn’t shied away from speaking out against the former president and some of his allies since then.
Her comments and actions have put her at odds with McCarthy, who is close to Trump and wants his help in 2022, as Republicans hope to win back the majority.
McConnell has taken a different tactic than Cheney and McCarthy. Like Cheney, he offered scathing criticism of Trump’s actions leading up to Jan. 6, calling him “morally responsible” for the attack during a speech in mid-February.
But McConnell voted to acquit Trump and since then has gone near silent about the former president, frequently stepping around even saying his name while discussing the former administration.
McConnell’s remarks come after Trump released a statement on Wednesday blasting Cheney and former Vice President Mike Pence. He also lashed out at McConnell, calling the Senate GOP leader “gutless and clueless.”
McConnell wasn’t asked about the statement.
But asked Wednesday if he could talk about his current relationship with Trump, McConnell demurred.
“I think I’ve already addressed that,” he said.