House Republicans ousted Rep. Liz Cheney from her post as the chamber’s No. 3 GOP leader on Wednesday, punishing her after she repeatedly rebuked former President Donald Trump for his false claims of election fraud and his role in fomenting the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
Meeting behind closed doors for less than 20 minutes, GOP lawmakers used a voice vote to remove Cheney, R-Wyo., from the party’s No. 3 House position, a jarring turnabout to what’s been her fast-rising career within the party.
She has been Congress’s highest-ranking Republican woman and a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and her demotion was the latest evidence that challenging Trump can be career-threatening.
Cheney’s replacement was widely expected to be Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who entered the House in 2015 at age 30, then the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Stefanik owns a more moderate voting record than Cheney but has evolved into a vigorous Trump defender who’s echoed some of his unfounded claims about widespread election cheating.
It was initially unclear when the separate vote on Cheney’s replacement would be.
Critics said Cheney’s offense wasn’t her views on Trump but her persistence in publicly expressing them, undermining the unity they want party leaders to display as they message in advance of next year’s elections, when they hope to win House control.
“It’s not about right or wrong. It’s about the focus” of House Republicans, Scalise said Tuesday.
Many Republicans also agree with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who’s said the allegiance many GOP voters have to Trump is so intense that the party can’t succeed without him.
A small number of Republicans have spoken out against removing Cheney.
“It will do nothing but drive some people away from our party,” said Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee and one who has clashed often with Trump.
Seemingly conceding that the numbers were against her, Cheney made no discernible effort to cement support ahead of Wednesday’s vote, several Republicans said.
Rather, she all but erected billboards advertising her clash with Trump, declaring 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 has told Republicans she intends to remain in Congress and seek reelection next year in her solidly pro-Trump state. The former president has said he’ll find a GOP primary challenger to oppose her.
Cheney arrived in Congress in 2017 with a well-known brand as an old-school conservative, favoring tax cuts, energy development and an assertive use of U.S. power abroad. By November 2018 she was elected to her current leadership job unopposed and seemed on an ambitious pathway, potentially including runs at becoming Speaker, senator or even president.
She occasionally disagreed with Trump during his presidency over issues like his withdrawal from Syria and attacks on Dr. Anthony Fauci over the pandemic. But her career hit turbulence in January once she became one of 10 House Republicans to back his second impeachment for inciting his supporters’ deadly Capitol assault of Jan. 6. The Senate acquitted him.