Republicans demote Liz Cheney, critic of Trump's 'Big Lie,' from leadership role
Daughter of former U.S. vice-president defended stance Tuesday in impassioned speech
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to eject Liz Cheney from her leadership post in caucus, a move likely to cement their dependence on former president Donald Trump ahead of the 2022 elections.
Claiming that Cheney's criticism of Trump is distracting from party messaging about Democrats and President Joe Biden's agenda, Republicans met to oust her as chair of the House Republican Conference.
"We cannot both embrace 'The Big Lie' and embrace the constitution," Cheney said in brief remarks after the meeting, referring to the term used to describe efforts to claim the election was stolen from Trump.
"I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office," she said. "We have seen the danger that he continues to provoke with his language, we have seen his lack of commitment and dedication to the constitution and I think it's important whomever we elect is somebody who will be faithful to the constitution."
Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Cheney defender, told reporters that Cheney had been defeated in a simple voice vote after a brief morning meeting.
"What happened today was sad," said Kinzinger. "Liz has committed the only sin of being consistent and telling the truth, the truth is that the election was not stolen."
WATCH | Republican Kinzinger defends Cheney:
Trump and the top two House Republicans, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and minority whip Steve Scalise, have endorsed Rep. Elise Stefanik as her likely replacement, although some in the caucus argue she is not conservative enough. A vote on her as Cheney's replacement could come as early as Friday.
In a statement issued after the vote, Trump launched personal attacks on her, saying, "Liz Cheney is a bitter, horrible human being." He went on that, "She has no personality or anything good having to do with politics or our country."
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said it was "disturbing to see any leader, regardless of party, being attacked for simply speaking the truth," when asked by a reporter for Biden's reaction to Cheney's ouster.
"His belief is that the American people will have to make their own decisions about whether the reaction by the people they elected to represent them should be embracing and elevating conspiracies and attacks on our democracy or whether it should be standing up for ideals that have historically been owned by both Democrats and Republicans representing the country throughout history," said Psaki.
McCarthy, once critical of Trump's Jan. 6 role, backs off
Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, who boasts sterling conservative credentials, has run afoul of McCarthy and others in her caucus by repeatedly denouncing Trump's falsehoods about the 2020 election and insisting that the Republican Party be the "party of truth."
In a defiant speech on the House floor on Tuesday night, Cheney blasted Trump for falsely claiming that November's election was stolen from him, as well as the Republicans who support his allegation.
"Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar," Cheney said. "I will not participate in that. 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."
Most Republican lawmakers, including McCarthy, have sought to placate Trump, who continues to insist falsely that he lost the election because of widespread fraud, a claim that has been shot down in multiple courts as well as by state and federal election officials.
Freedom only survives if we protect it. We must speak the truth. The election was not stolen. America has not failed. <a href="https://t.co/H4KrMxkPdy">pic.twitter.com/H4KrMxkPdy</a>—@RepLizCheney
"It's clear that we need to make a change," McCarthy told his fellow Republicans in a letter announcing Wednesday's vote. "These internal conflicts need to be resolved so as to not detract from the efforts of our collective team."
It is an evolution from McCarthy's comments the week of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, in which he said that Trump "bears responsibility for [the] attack on Congress by mob rioters."
House Republican aides and party strategists said Cheney's expected ouster could help Republicans in the short term by ensuring the party can count on Trump's supporters at the start of the 2022 congressional election campaign, in which Republicans hope to reclaim majorities in the House and Senate.
"House members are very responsive to their base, and the Republican base continues to love Donald Trump," said Republican strategist Alex Conant.
But the show of fealty to the former president has already opened House Republicans to claims that they are punishing a truth-teller in a move that could alienate swing voters whom Republicans will need to achieve their election goals.
The move against Cheney also stands in contrast to McCarthy's decision not to act against Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz. The House's Democratic leadership stripped Greene of her committee assignments for past incendiary remarks that included support for violence against Democrats, while Gaetz is the subject of a federal child sex-trafficking probe.
Reaction from Republican Sen. Graham, Democratic congressman Schiff:
It was about her belief President Trump should be purged from the GOP and those who objected to the results of the 2020 election should be disqualified from future leadership positions. <br><br>As a result, the House GOP Conference has decided to move forward in a different direction.—@LindseyGrahamSC
House Republicans just ousted Liz Cheney from leadership.<br> <br>Because they’re now the party of lies, with one lie bigger than the rest.<br> <br>She stated a simple fact: The election was not stolen.<br> <br>In a party that places loyalty to Trump over principle, there is no room for the truth.—@RepAdamSchiff
Cheney's departure and Trump's continued false election claims could further deepen divisions within the party, according to some Republicans.
Cheney, the daughter of former vice-president Dick Cheney, was among 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting insurrection in January and now faces an uphill battle for re-election in her home state of Wyoming, where Trump is revered.
But the move to oust Cheney could also prove risky for McCarthy and other top Republicans if their embrace of Trump backfires.
Trump was impeached twice; presided over the Republican loss of the House, the Senate and the White House; and has been accused of inciting the Capitol riot, a day on which five people died at the Capitol including a police officer.
Trump faces potential legal consequences on a number of fronts, including for his interventions with Georgia election officials, as well as an ongoing New York probe centred around Trump Organization.
With files from CBC News