McCarthy defends Cheney as Republicans decide her fate
House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday offered a full-throated defense of Rep. Liz Cheney to Republicans and made the case for her to stay in leadership, delivering a critical boost for the Wyoming Republican as she fights to hang on to her No. 3 position.
During a tense, closed-door meeting with the entire GOP conference — which has been billed as a “family discussion” focused on Cheney’s fate — McCarthy said Republicans need to be united in order to win back the House in 2022 and pleaded with his party to move on.
And while the California Republican said he didn’t agree with Cheney’s vote to impeach Donald Trump, McCarthy said she had a right to vote that way. He also said members need to trust their leadership and can’t question every single decision they make.
“I want this leadership team to stay together,” he told members, according to a source inside the room.
For her part, Cheney told members that she won’t apologize for her impeachment vote, but she defended why she put out a statement on her position a day before the floor vote — timing that incensed many Republicans, since it handed Democrats a fresh batch of talking points.
But it is unlikely enough to appease a group of conservative hard-liners, who are furious with Cheney and want to oust her from leadership. They will try to force a vote on the matter during Wednesday’s meeting.
And McCarthy, who has been desperate to turn the page on his party’s internal conflicts in the wake of the deadly Jan. 6 riots, has the option to trigger a vote on Cheney’s fate right away or punt it to an internal committee. So far, it’s unclear what he plans to do, but several members said they were expecting a vote at the conclusion of the meeting, with some eager to get it over with.
After leadership addressed the conference, the meeting quickly turned into a “fiery” exchange, as one source inside the room described it. Rep. Daniel Bishop (R-N.C.) kicked things off by formally introducing a resolution calling on Cheney to step down from her post.
Then dozens of lawmakers began lining up at the mics to speak their mind, with members either airing their grievances over Cheney or delivering passionate defenses of the Wyoming Republican.
Lawmakers who were critical of Cheney painted her as out of step with the majority of the conference, where over 120 House Republicans voted to challenge the election resolution and just 10 Republicans voted to impeach Trump. They also argued that, as conference chair, Cheney has more of a responsibility to be aligned with her party since she is in charge of messaging efforts.
And Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) spoke up and took aim at Cheney’s past effort to support one of his primary challengers — a gripe he first brought up during a private meeting last summer, when conservatives piled onto Cheney over her criticism of Trump.
But Cheney’s supporters argued that the GOP can’t shun voices of dissent inside their ranks and said she had every right to vote her conscience. They also warned that purging Cheney, the highest ranking Republican women, over her perceived disloyalty to Trump could be disastrous in the next mid-terms.
During the meeting, Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina — who also voted to impeach — criticized McCarthy for trekking down to Mar-a-Lago last week to make amends with Trump, according to sources inside the room. After that meeting, McCarthy made clear that Trump would be an integral part of the GOP’s efforts to win back the House.
Rice also voiced frustration that a Cheney attack page was posted on WinRed, the GOP’s online fundraising platform designed to be a counterweight to Democrats’ ActBlue.
Some have framed the debate over Cheney as a proxy war for the heart and soul of the post-Trump GOP, which has been wracked by inner turmoil since the deadly insurrection on the Capitol.
“I don’t think this is about Liz Cheney. … This is about the direction of our party, and whether or not we’re going to be, you know, a minority dedicated to just one person, or we’re going to be a Republican, a united Republican Majority,” said Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), who also backed impeachment. “That’s what we’re talking about.”
Heading into the closed-door meeting, both fans and critics of Cheney conceded that if it does come to a vote, it will be close. And it has been nearly a month of anger and frustration bubbling up since the insurrection and impeachment vote, with two sides of the parties publicly attacking one another.
Those leading the efforts to boot Cheney have argued that it is less so for her impeachment vote, but rather the way she handled announcing her decision. And while some said if she takes a tone of remorse and contrition — something Cheney is not known to do — then they may be more willing to forgive and forget.
Cheney has repeatedly framed the decision as a vote of conscience, and her decision helped give cover to other Republicans who were weighing whether to vote to impeach Trump or not on the charge that he willfully incited a riot by peddling false claims that the election was “stolen.” Cheney was one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach the ex-president.
The optics would be tough if Cheney was ousted from leadership, with controversial Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene simply receiving a warning for embracing dangerous QAnon-adjacent social media posts before arriving to Congress and Cheney getting kicked out for condemning a president who belatedly told rioters to stand down after an outburst of violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6.