Liz Cheney faces blowback after embracing impeachment
Conservative hard-liners are moving against House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney after she pledged to impeach President Donald Trump — the first serious signs of blowback since she made her position public.
Less than 24 hours after Cheney said she would vote to remove Trump from office for his role in the deadly Capitol riots, some of the president’s closest allies are now taking steps to oust the No. 3 Republican from leadership.
Members of the Freedom Caucus began circulating a petition Wednesday to force a special conference meeting so they could debate and vote on a resolution calling on Cheney to resign from her post. Just 20 percent, or 42 members, of the House GOP is required to sign the petition in order to force the meeting. But a majority of the conference would need to agree to the resolution in order for it to be adopted. That vote would be conducted via secret ballot.
“The conference ought to vote on that,” Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), a co-founder of the arch-conservative caucus, said in the Capitol on Wednesday. “We ought to have a second vote.” Cheney was just unanimously reelected to her position in November.
The resolution obtained by POLITICO states that Cheney’s position “does not reflect that of the majority of the Republican Conference and has brought the Conference into disrepute and produced discord.”
Cheney, however, made clear she has no intentions of leaving voluntarily.
“I’m not going anywhere. This is a vote of conscience,” she told POLITICO in the Capitol. “It’s one where there are different views in our conference. But our nation is facing an unprecedented, since the civil war, constitutional crisis.
“That’s what we need to be focused on,” she added. “That’s where our efforts and attention need to be.”
Meanwhile, GOP Rep. John Katko of New York— who also voted for impeachment — began circulating a letter Wednesday expressing support for Cheney and rejecting the calls for her step down, according to a copy obtained by POLITICO.
The pushback from the party’s right flank underscores how supporting Trump’s removal may still be a politically toxic move in the GOP, even after he incited a violent mob to storm the Capitol. Aside from facing condemnation from their colleagues, Republicans who vote to impeach could also find themselves the subject of pro-Trump primary challenges.
Besides Cheney and Katko, just eight other Republicans voted Wednesday to impeach Trump: Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Fred Upton of Michigan, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, Dan Newhouse of Washington, David Valadao of California, Tom Rice of South Carolina, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio and Peter Meijer of Michigan.
Yet Cheney has told colleagues she wants to be on the right side of history and has framed it as a “vote of conscience” in private conversations, according to sources.
Cheney, who is the highest-ranking Republican to publicly back impeachment, released a statement Tuesday explaining her support for Trump’s impeachment, saying he “summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack” on the U.S. Capitol last week.
“There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” she said.
Cheney’s stance puts her directly at odds with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) — both of whom oppose impeachment — and sets up a dramatic rift in GOP leadership.
Some in the GOP conference are frustrated with all its leaders.
“I think that when Kevin and Steve supported an unconstitutional challenge to the election, and when [Liz Cheney] is supporting a constitutionally flawed impeachment, we have leadership issues,” Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) told reporters.
McCarthy declined to answer questions from reporters Wednesday about whether he thinks Cheney deserves to remain in leadership. But one plugged-in House Republican, who is not a member of the Freedom Caucus and doesn’t want to see Cheney step down, predicted that the majority of the GOP conference will support booting her from leadership.
Cheney’s allies, however, expect her to remain safe, and also argue it would be a bad look for the GOP to punish Cheney and not Trump.
Other Republicans came to Cheney’s defense Wednesday, including freshman Rep. Nancy Mace. The South Carolina Republican is not voting to impeach Trump, but she’s been critical of the president and her GOP colleagues for their role in the crisis.
“We should not be silencing voices of dissent,” Mace said. “That is one of the reasons we are in this today, is that we have allowed QAnon conspiracy theorists to lead us.”
And Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) tweeted that Cheney “has a hell of a lot more backbone than most” and “will continue to be a much needed leader in the conference, with my full support.”
“We can disagree without tearing each other apart,” he added.
Aside from backing impeachment, Cheney also irked some of her colleagues for taking such a public stance against challenging the election results ahead of the Jan. 6 vote, even sending a 21-page memo arguing why objecting to president-elect Joe Biden’s victory would be unconstitutional. Over 120 House Republicans ended up joining in on the objections.
The same Republicans who backed the president’s baseless election fraud allegations, which fueled the deadly siege of the Capitol, are now leading the charge against Cheney. But some of those lawmakers are now facing calls for censure, resignation or investigation for their own roles.
The episode is just the latest chapter in the ongoing clash between Cheney and the right wing of the House GOP conference. While Cheney has long pushed back on Trump over foreign policy and national security issues, hard-liners began to turn on her last summer when she criticized Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and also backed a primary opponent to Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).
At the time, some conservatives even discussed recruiting someone to challenge her for conference chair, but it never came to fruition; Cheney was unanimously selected in November to serve another two-year term in leadership.
But some Republicans expressed regret that they didn’t force a roll call vote after she put out a statement calling on Trump to respect the “sanctity” of the election if he can’t prove his voter fraud claims in court. The Freedom Caucus, a band of roughly 30 conservative hard-liners, make up a key voting bloc in the House GOP, though their power has waned in the minority.
“She should not be serving this conference,” said Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.). “That’s it.”
Ben Leonard and Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.