Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney is no longer the most powerful Republican woman in the House of Representatives, and many in the GOP are troubled by the party’s direction.
Chief among them is Cheney, who was unceremoniously stripped of her No. 3 position in the House leadership on a quick voice vote on Wednesday.
Her political crime: speaking out against former President Donald Trump’s repeated and unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him and his role in riling up supporters who carried out an attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
“I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office,” Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, told reporters right after the vote.
But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other Republican House members, rather than trying to move on from Trump want to make sure the GOP stays allied with the former president.
McCarthy, who initially condemned Trump and said he “bears responsibility” for what happened on Jan. 6, quickly backed away from that statement in recent months.
The House’s top Republican met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago in Florida and decided his best chance to become House majority leader after the 2022 midterms was to harness the GOP’s political fortunes to the former president.
GOP divide — third party?
Not all Republicans, including traditional conservatives as well as more moderate voices, are convinced that McCarthy’s decision to go “all in” on Trump is a good political gamble.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has generally tried to sidestep all the political gyrations in the House, declining to weigh in too deeply on the direction the lower house is heading.
The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, said this week that he’d prefer that the party not continue to re-litigate the 2020 presidential election, which Trump continues to do.
“I hope that all Republicans can start looking forward, not looking backward, but talk about what we’re going to do to improve the lives of the American people,” Thune said.
Many Republicans are clearly uncomfortable with linking themselves to the only U.S. president who has been impeached two times. Trump was acquitted twice, most recently for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
As the New York Times reported, more than 100 Republicans have indicated they are willing to create a third party if the GOP doesn’t make changes that move away from Trump.
They include former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and former Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, who lost her 10th District seat in the 2018 election.
But creating a third party is a long political climb. It remains far from clear that there would be enough of a groundswell away from the GOP to create a party with any clout.
Capitol attack hangs over GOP
Right after Cheney was ousted from her leadership post, the House Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing related to the Capitol attack, featuring former Trump administration officials.
It was another reminder that the specter of Trump still hangs over Congress and the Capitol.
The chair of the committee, New York Democrat Rep. Carolyn Maloney, referred to Cheney’s plight during her opening statement to lead off the hearing.
“No member of Congress, whether a freshman representative or a House conference chair, should face punishment for speaking the truth about what happened (Jan. 6),” she said.
Maloney also quoted Cheney from a floor speech she gave Tuesday night: “Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar. We must speak the truth. Our election was not stolen and America has not failed.”
It’s a rare moment these days when a Democratic lawmaker quotes a Republican lawmaker, not to criticize, but to affirm what the other member said.
By contrast, in a reflection of the division within the Republican Party, freshman North Carolina Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn, tweeted the following: “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye Liz Cheney,”
Republicans are expected to replace Cheney soon with New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, a staunch Trump supporter.
But while she’s likely to become a member of House leadership, she’s not the unanimous choice.
Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, has said he thinks Stefanik is too liberal. Using a favorite term the GOP usually reserves for Democrats, he has indicated he thinks Cheney was “canceled” by fellow Republicans.