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Knives out: GOP leaders turn on Cheney

Scalise, Trump back Stefanik to replace Cheney as No. 3 House Republican

Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., attends a news conference following a House Republican caucus meeting in Washington on Tuesday, April 20, 2021.
Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., attends a news conference following a House Republican caucus meeting in Washington on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Key Republicans continue to signal their support for dumping House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney from her leadership spot, with momentum building as Cheney has held former President Donald Trump to account for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and stood firm that the 2020 election was not stolen.

Cheney, a staunch Wyoming conservative and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, has lost key support from her House GOP leadership colleagues. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday that members are concerned about her ability to lead. And Minority Whip Steve Scalise, the No. 2 in leadership, announced his support for New York Republican Elise Stefanik to replace Cheney. Stefanik is a Trump loyalist who is defined less by her previous votes against Trump policies than by her ardent defense of Trump, notably during his first impeachment.

Data compiled by CQ Vote Watch shows Cheney voted the same way other Republicans did far more often than Stefanik during Trump’s presidency, especially after Democrats took control of the House in 2019.

Cheney’s “party unity score” was never lower than 96 percent from 2017 through 2020, while Stefanik’s scores were at 88 percent and 87 percent in 2017 and 2018, dropped to 68 percent in 2019, and then rose to 82 percent in 2020.

Cheney also voted more often than Stefanik for the positions Trump took, a statistic known as the presidential support score. In 2019, for example, Cheney voted for the positions Trump supported 97 percent of the time, compared with 93 percent for the average Republican and 61 percent for Stefanik.

Regardless, House Republican leaders are looking past Cheney.

“House Republicans need to be solely focused on taking back the House in 2022 and fighting against Speaker Pelosi and President Biden’s radical socialist agenda, and Elise Stefanik is strongly committed to doing that, which is why Whip Scalise has pledged to support her for Conference Chair,” Lauren Fine, a spokesperson for Scalise, said in a statement.

Jeremy Adler, a Cheney spokesperson, said, “Liz will have more to say in the coming days. This moment is about much more than a House leadership fight.”

Later on, the Washington Post published an op-ed by Cheney in which she stood her ground.

“I am a conservative Republican, and the most conservative of conservative values is reverence for the rule of law. Each of us swears an oath before God to uphold our Constitution. The electoral college has spoken. More than 60 state and federal courts, including multiple Trump-appointed judges, have rejected the former president’s arguments, and refused to overturn election results. That is the rule of law; that is our constitutional system for resolving claims of election fraud. The question before us now is whether we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have,” she wrote.

On Wednesday, Trump announced he is backing Stefanik, whom he called a “far superior choice” compared with Cheney. Trump called Cheney a “warmongering fool.” Among the key differences between Trump and Stefanik has been Stefanik’s criticism of proposed troop withdrawals from Syria. She also worked for the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, the current Utah senator who voted twice to convict Trump after impeachment trials.

Stefanik tweeted her thanks, using the social media platform Trump is still banned from for violating its terms of agreement, specifically his inciting of violence on Jan. 6.

“Thank you President Trump for your 100% support for House GOP Conference Chair. We are unified and focused on FIRING PELOSI & WINNING in 2022!,” she wrote Wednesday.

McCarthy denied this latest installment of Cheney discontent stems from her vote to impeach Trump. The conference held a referendum on Cheney’s impeachment vote in early February that she won in a convincing manner, 145-61.

“There’s no concern about how she voted on impeachment,” McCarthy told Fox News on Tuesday. “That decision has been made. I have heard from members concerned about her ability to carry out the job as conference chair. To carry out the message. We all need to be working as one if we’re able to win the majority.”

In response to that interview, Adler, Cheney’s spokesperson said, “This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on Jan 6. Liz will not do that. That is the issue.”

The House is in recess, but is due to return next week, when Republicans will have a chance to vote on whether to keep Cheney in her post. The previous vote took place behind closed doors.

Many Republicans have been quick to try to put Jan. 6 in the past. McCarthy took a brief swipe at assigning blame to Trump for his role in the Capitol attack but has since retreated from that stance. On Jan. 13, McCarthy said on the House floor that “the president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.” He voted against impeaching Trump, but said a censure resolution of Trump would be “prudent.”

The California Republican ultimately reversed course and said on Jan. 21 that Trump did not provoke the rioters.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized Republican leaders for looking to punish Cheney.

“In McCarthy’s Republican Conference, the line in the sand isn’t white supremacy, it’s defending the integrity of our elections and the ideal member of leadership isn’t someone who tells the truth, it’s someone willing to promote the Big Lie to get ahead,” she said in a statement.

Cheney has been unwavering in her position of calling out Trump for his actions and was joined by nine other Republicans in voting to impeach Trump.

“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Cheney said in a statement the night before the impeachment vote. “Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Cheney has her supporters in the GOP Conference.

“Every GOP member of Congress needs to go on the record as to how they will vote on @RepLizCheney in operation #coverupJan6 and concerned donors should take notes. I will vote for Liz,” Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger tweeted Wednesday.

Bridget Bowman and Herb Jackson contributed to this report.

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