Politics

The Jan. 6 Insurrection Takes Down Liz Cheney

House Republicans purge their No. 3 leader for refusing to lie about Trump.

Cheney speaks at a mic with a scrum of reporters behind her
Rep. Liz Cheney speaks to the press at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

House Republicans on Wednesday morning fired their No. 3 leader, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, for her persistence in pushing back against former President Donald Trump’s continued claim that the 2020 election had been stolen from him, a lie that sparked a violent riot aimed at disrupting congressional certification of the presidential election results on Jan. 6. Her devotion to that cause had made her, in her colleagues’ eyes, a distraction, and an impediment to their return to power.

Cheney, as conference chair, runs the weekly conference meeting whose sole item of business that day was her removal. She told members that she had “tremendous affection and admiration for many of you in this room,” but argued that “we cannot let the former president drag us backward and make us complicit in his efforts to unravel our democracy. Down that path lies our destruction, and potentially the destruction of our country.”

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“If you want leaders who will enable and spread his destructive lies,” she added, “I’m not your person. You have plenty of others to choose from. That will be their legacy.”

North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx introduced the formal resolution to boot Cheney. She felt it necessary, first, to clarify that she was not canceling Cheney for holding an inconvenient opinion. “My resolution and what I think the result of this resolution will be has nothing to do with any member’s right to free speech or to vote her or his conscience,” Foxx said. “It has everything to do with leadership. My belief is that the result of my resolution will show that the conference has lost its confidence in your leadership, Liz.” She then made an abrupt turn to viciousness. “As the old saying goes: ‘She who thinks she leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.’ Liz, I’m afraid you’re a woman who is only taking a walk right now. You have lost your followers.” (A version of this was a favorite saying of former Speaker John Boehner’s, whom the right also drove out of power.)

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Cheney was removed by voice vote and, according to Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, it was “probably three-quarters” in favor of removing her, though “obviously it was some people screaming louder than others.” Someone made a parliamentary inquiry asking about the possibility of a recorded vote, and it was “ruled out of order because the time had lapsed to ask for one,” Buck said. The whole meeting was over and done within 10 or 15 minutes. Leaders didn’t want a lengthy spectacle for members to live-text reporters about.

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The broad majority of House Republicans who ousted Cheney do not feel torn about this. Even some of those who might privately feel that Cheney is right about Trump don’t think it’s useful having a member of leadership so regularly voicing those opinions, and giving the media fodder for stories about Republican divisions, when they’re trying to take back the majority and hit the brakes on unified Democratic control of government.

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“You can’t have a conference chair who recites Democrat talking points,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan said. He explained that this was a problem members had with Cheney well before Jan. 6 and her pushback to the stolen election narrative. “Last summer, when the Russian bounty story came out, which we all knew was false, instead of like, critiquing the president, why not just call the White House and ask him?” Jordan said. “Instead, she has to go after the president. So, I mean, it’s been a pattern, and it’s time for a change.”

Buck, who’s also a Freedom Caucus member but opposed House GOP efforts to object to Electoral College results, voted “no” on removing Cheney. And he did not buy Foxx’s argument that this was not an instance of cancel culture.

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“Liz didn’t agree with President Trump’s narrative, and she was canceled,” Buck told reporters after the meeting. He said he understood the arguments that Republicans needed to be laser-focused on Biden policies heading into the midterms, but also felt that their inability to deal with Trump’s narrative head-on would cost them, too.

“There are major issues—the border, spending—there are major issues,” he said. “But to suggest that the American people in 2022 won’t consider the fact that we were unwilling to stand up to a narrative that the election was stolen, I think will be taken into consideration with their vote.” There is a compelling argument that the Cheney saga, and the obsession over the No. 3 leadership position in the House minority, is the ultimate Beltway story that real-life voters don’t care about.

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Buck insisted that wasn’t the case: “I go home and talk to people—real people—I get outside this Beltway and I talk to real people, and real people tell me, ‘Why are you guys taking on Liz Cheney?’ ”

There isn’t much of a competition to replace Cheney as conference chair. Leaders have scheduled a candidate forum for Thursday and a vote for Friday. There is, so far, only one candidate: New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who formally announced her candidacy with a letter written in the put-on, Trumpy voice she’s harnessed over the last couple of years. There has been consternation within the conference about the rush to “coronate” Stefanik despite her relatively moderate voting record. But Trump wants Stefanik, and the coronation is expected to proceed for the same reason that there’s a vacancy: Trump owns the House Republican conference.

Cheney, meanwhile, has no plans to resign from office or to not seek reelection. Now freed from her leadership duties, she has other things to take care of.

“I will do everything I can,” she told reporters after the meeting, “to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office.”

To understand what led up to Rep. Liz Cheney’s ouster from leadership, listen to this recent episode of What Next.

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