Republicans in the United States House of Representatives voted Wednesday to remove party member Liz Cheney, who became one of the most prominent critics of former President Donald Trump’s false claims of election malfeasance, from her leadership position.
The secret vote ousted Cheney from her role as House Republican Conference chair, the third-highest ranking position in House GOP leadership.
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The vote serves as a referendum on the direction the Republican Party will take as it prepares for congressional midterm elections in 2022 and the next presidential contest in 2024.
The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.
— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) May 3, 2021
Cheney’s removal from GOP leadership is yet another indication that the party leadership has decided to placate, or remain silent, on Trump’s false claims that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged” or “stolen”.
“Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar,” Cheney said during a four-minute speech on the House floor on Tuesday night.
“I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”
House Republican leaders have said the vote is not about silencing criticism of Trump’s false claims, but about refocusing attention on other issues and ending party infighting.
“It’s not about right or wrong. It’s about the focus” of House Republicans, Representative Steve Scalise, the second most powerful Republican in the chamber, said on Tuesday.
Still, the prospect of Trump’s 2024 presidential bid looms large.
Following her removal, Cheney promised she will focus her efforts on fighting another Trump presidential bid.
“I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office,” Cheney told reporters at the US Capitol. “We have seen the danger that he continues to provoke with his language. We have seen his lack of dedication to the Constitution.”
Expected to replace Cheney if she is removed is Representative Elise Stefanik, who has emerged as one of Trump’s most ardent defenders and who has been endorsed by Scalise and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
‘Drive some people away’
A small number of Republicans have spoken out against removing Cheney, who joined nine other Republicans in voting to impeach Trump for his role in inciting the January 6 storming of the US Capitol by pro-Trump rioters.
“The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Cheney said at the time.
“There has never been a greater betrayal” by a sitting US president, she continued.
Prior to the Capitol riot, thousands of Trump supporters attended a rally organised by Trump on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Trump gave a fiery speech, claimed the election had been stolen and urged supporters to march on Congress.
Trump had singled Cheney out in the speech, saying “We’ve got to get rid of the weak congresspeople, the ones that aren’t any good, the Liz Cheneys of the world.”
Cheney survived an attempt in February to remove her as Republican conference chair. In a secret tally, the House Republican caucus had voted 145-61 not to remove her. At the time, McCarthy had backed her despite their differences.
In a letter to Republican colleagues setting up Wednesday’s vote, McCarthy made clear that Cheney’s time in leadership was up, saying, “These internal conflicts need to be resolved so as to not detract from the efforts of our collective team.”
“Having heard from so many of you in recent days, it is time to make a change,” McCarthy said.
Removing Cheney “will do nothing but drive some people away from our party,” said Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee and one who has clashed often with Trump.
Expelling Liz Cheney from leadership won’t gain the GOP one additional voter, but it will cost us quite a few.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) May 10, 2021
Cheney, meanwhile, did little to cement support ahead of the party vote, appearing to concede that the numbers were against her, several Republicans told the Associated Press.
She has instead chosen to go on a public campaign highlight her clash with Trump, writing in a Washington Post column last week, “The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”
Cheney had previously been a rising conservative star.
The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, she arrived in Congress in 2017 with a well-known brand and cultivated a staunchly conservative voting record, favouring tax cuts, energy development and an assertive use of US power abroad.
Cheney, who represents Wyoming, has said she plans to seek re-election next year, despite Trump’s vow to support a primary challenger.
While possible replacement Stefanik has won adoration from Trump, some of Washington’s hardest-right conservatives have remained suspicious of her comparatively moderate record.
No other challenger has yet emerged.