House Republicans ousted Rep. Liz Cheney from her post as the chamber’s No. 3 GOP leader on Wednesday, punishing her after she repeatedly rebuked former President Donald Trump for his false claims of election fraud and his role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
Meeting behind closed doors for less than 20 minutes, GOP lawmakers used a voice vote to remove the Wyoming congresswoman from her leadership post, the latest evidence that challenging Trump can be career-threatening for a Republican, even one from party royalty.
A daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, the congresswoman is an old-school Republican establishment pillar, and her demotion stands as a striking, perhaps defining moment for the GOP.
Both inside the private meeting and later to reporters, a defiant Cheney made clear that she would own her banishment from leadership’s ranks as a badge of honor and try to steer the party away from a former president she considers a threat to democracy.
“If you want leaders who will enable and spread his destructive lies, I’m not your person,” she told her colleagues before the vote, according to a person who provided her remarks only on condition of anonymity. “You have plenty of others to choose from. That will be their legacy.”
One of the nation’s two major parties was in effect declaring an extraordinary requirement for admission to its highest ranks: fealty to, or at least silence about, Trump’s lie that he lost his November reelection bid due to widespread fraud. In states around the country, officials and judges of both parties found no evidence to support Trump’s claims that extensive illegalities caused his defeat.
Participants said Cheney received a polite standing ovation after her remarks inside Wednesday’s meeting. Leaders opted against recorded individual votes, but she had to endure what Rep. Byron Donalds of Florid said was a “deafening” voice vote to topple her.
Outside afterward, she declared, “The nation needs a strong Republican Party; the nation needs a party that is based upon fundamental principles of conservatism, and I am committed and dedicated to ensuring that that’s how this party goes forward, and I plan to lead the fight to do that.”
She added, “I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office.”
Even so, the vote marked a surprising demotion for Congress’ highest-ranking Republican woman and raised questions about a career path that until recently seemed to have unlimited potential.
Cheney has told Republicans she intends to remain in Congress and seek reelection next year in her solidly pro-Trump state. The former president has said he’ll find a GOP primary challenger to oppose her.
Her replacement in the party’s House leadership is expected to be Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who entered the House in 2015 at age 30, then the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
Stefanik owns a more moderate voting record than Cheney but has evolved into a vigorous Trump defender who’s echoed some of his unfounded claims about widespread election cheating. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., said the vote on replacing Cheney will occur Friday.
Cheney’s fate had been sealed with Trump, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and No. 2 GOP leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana all arrayed against her. GOP lawmakers complained that Cheney’s offense wasn’t her view of Trump but her persistence in publicly expressing it, undermining the unity they want party leaders to display in advance of next year’s elections, when they hope to win House control.
McCarthy and Scalise did not immediately appear before reporters. But hard-right conservatives, among Cheney’s fiercest critics, were exultant.
“Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye Liz Cheney,” tweeted conservative freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina.
“You can’t have a conference chair who recites Democrat talking points,” said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a conservative leader using the formal title for Cheney’s former post.
As if to underscore Jordan’s point, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., released a statement saying, “Congresswoman Liz Cheney is a leader of great courage, patriotism and integrity. Today, House Republicans declared that those values are unwelcome in the Republican Party.”
“What happened today was sad,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., another loud Trump critic and one of the few Republicans who have publicly defended Cheney. “Liz committed the only sin of being consistent and telling the truth. The truth is that the election was not stolen.”
Before Wednesday’s vote, Cheney all but erected billboards advertising that she would not step away from clashing with Trump. That included Tuesday night, when she took to a nearly empty House chamber to deliver an unapologetic four-minute assault on her GOP adversaries and defense of her own position.
Many Republicans consider a turn away from Trump to be political suicide and agree with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who’s said the allegiance many GOP voters have to the former president is so intense that the party can’t succeed without him.
Trump raced to a rancorous victory lap after Cheney’s removal.
“Liz Cheney is a bitter, horrible human being. I watched her yesterday and realized how bad she is for the Republican Party. She has no personality or anything good having to do with politics or our Country. She is a talking point for Democrats, whether that means the Border, the gas lines, inflation, or destroying our economy. ”
Cheney arrived in Congress in 2017 with a well-known brand as an old-school conservative, favoring tax cuts, energy development and an assertive use of U.S. power abroad. By November 2018 she was elected to her current leadership job unopposed and seemed on an upward path, potentially including runs at becoming speaker, senator or even president.
She occasionally disagreed with Trump during his presidency over issues like the U.S. withdrawal from Syria and his attacks on Dr. Anthony Fauci over the pandemic. But her career hit turbulence in January once she became one of 10 House Republicans to back his second impeachment for inciting his supporters’ deadly Capitol assault. The Senate acquitted him.
Cheney withstood a February effort to boot her from leadership in a 145-61 secret ballot, with a McCarthy speech on her behalf credited with saving her. That didn’t happen this time.
Stefanik represents an upstate New York district that voted twice for Barack Obama, then twice for Trump over the past four presidential elections.
She grabbed center stage as a fierce Trump defender in 2019 as the House impeached him over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to produce damaging information about Joe Biden, his Democratic rival. Senate acquittal followed.
Some of Washington’s hardest-right conservatives have remained suspicious of Stefanik’s moderate record, but no challenger has emerged.
AP reporter Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press