KETR

McCarthy Comments Fuel Speculation Of Liz Cheney's Removal From House GOP Leadership

May 4, 2021
Originally published on May 5, 2021 6:57 am

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday that Republican lawmakers have shared concerns with him over Rep. Liz Cheney's ability "to carry out the message," fueling speculation that the No. 3 House Republican may once again face an effort to oust her from party leadership.

"There's no concern about how she voted on impeachment — that decision has been made," the California Republican told Fox & Friends. "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."

His comments come a day after Cheney responded to a statement from former President Donald Trump once again perpetuating his false claim the presidential election was stolen from him.

"The 2020 presidential election was not stolen," Cheney tweeted. "Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system."

The Wyoming lawmaker, the highest-ranking woman in House GOP leadership, has faced intense backlash from her party since she voted to impeach Trump over his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

"There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution," Cheney said in a statement at the time.

Her vote earned her a censure from the Wyoming Republican Party and a growing list of primary challengers, along with calls to throw her out of her leadership job. She was able to ward them off in a secret ballot vote in February with support from McCarthy.

But since then, the gulf between Cheney and the rest of GOP leadership has grown as McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise are embracing the former president to help Republicans in the next midterm elections.

"This idea that you just disregard President Trump is not where we are, and frankly he has a lot to offer still and has offered a lot. He wants to help us win the House back," Scalise recently told Axios.

Last month, Cheney, who is responsible for party messaging, pointedly did not invite Trump to speak when Republicans gathered for their annual retreat in his home state of Florida. Once there, she told reporters that any Republican who objected to the Electoral College counts should not ever be considered a GOP candidate for president.

"I do think that some of our candidates who led the charge, particularly the senators who led the unconstitutional charge, not to certify the election, you know, in my view that's disqualifying," she told the New York Post.

Cheney has also broken with party leaders who are blocking an investigative commission into the Jan. 6 attack because they want it also to examine the violence around some of the racial justice protests last summer. Democrats said that's a distraction, and Cheney agreed.

"I think that's a different set of issues, a different set of problems and a different set of solutions," she said at the retreat. "And so I think it's very important that the Jan. 6 commission, focused on, what happened on Jan. 6 and then what led to that day."

The strain between Cheney and GOP leadership was on full display at a press conference at the end of February when reporters asked McCarthy whether Trump should speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

"He should," McCarthy answered bluntly. The question was then posed to Cheney, who answered from the back as McCarthy remained at the lectern.

"I've been clear in my views about President Trump and the extent to which following Jan. 6 I don't believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country," Cheney said, as McCarthy closed his eyes in apparent frustration.

An awkward pause followed, with McCarthy abruptly ending the press conference with "on that high note, thank you very much." The pair left walking in separate directions and have rarely appeared together since then.

Professor Jim King of the University of Wyoming said Cheney's opposition to Trump hasn't yet ruined her political fortunes, but it has changed them.

"She may not any longer be on track to be speaker, but I don't see that she's in a position where she's going to lose in Wyoming," he said.

Fundraising for her reelection bid has been robust, and she continues to enjoy support from Republicans such as former House Speaker Paul Ryan as well as fellow Republicans who also supported Trump's impeachment.

"Every person of conscience draws a line beyond which they will not go: Liz Cheney refuses to lie," Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, tweeted Tuesday.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney is the third highest-ranking House Republican. She's also one of the party's fiercest critics of former President Trump for his undermining of the 2020 election and incitement of the January 6 Capitol riot. A growing number of House Republicans say those two roles are incompatible. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis reports.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: It's not just that Congresswoman Liz Cheney voted to impeach former President Trump. It's that as the leader in charge of the party's messaging, she simply refuses to stop speaking out against him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LIZ CHENEY: Somebody who has provoked an attack on the United States Capitol to prevent the counting of electoral votes which resulted in five people dying, who refused to stand up immediately when he was asked and stop the violence - that is a person who does not have a role as a leader of our party going forward.

DAVIS: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy long ago walked back his initial criticism of Trump's role in the January 6 attack, but Cheney has been relentless. On Monday, when Trump once again baselessly questioned the integrity of the 2020 election, she tweeted in response, quote, "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." Last month, she made clear Trump was not welcome at House Republicans' annual retreat in Florida.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHENEY: I haven't invited him.

DAVIS: And her anger isn't saved just for Trump. At the retreat, she told reporters that any Republican who objected to the Electoral College counts should never be considered a potential Republican candidate for president. She also broke with party leaders, who are blocking an investigative commission into the January 6 attack because they wanted to also look at violence around the racial justice protests last summer. Democrats say that's a distraction. Cheney agrees.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHENEY: I think that's a different set of issues, a different set of problems and a different set of solutions.

DAVIS: The strain is starting to show. McCarthy initially rallied behind Cheney when a faction of the rank and file tried to throw her out of her leadership job after the impeachment vote. His support helped her beat back the effort by a more than 2-to-1 margin on a secret ballot back in February. But this morning McCarthy told Fox News that Cheney's messaging is becoming a problem.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: 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.

DAVIS: Minority Whip Steve Scalise told Axios in an interview that Cheney's views on Trump are out of step with most Republicans.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE SCALISE: This idea that, you know, you just disregard President Trump is not where we are. And frankly, he has a lot to offer still and has offered a lot. He wants to help us win the House back.

DAVIS: No House Republican has yet to call for another referendum vote on her leadership position. Back home in Wyoming, she's been censured by the state Republican Party for her impeachment vote and is facing a primary challenge for her seat. Trump plans to campaign against her, but she's posting strong fundraising numbers for her reelection campaign and still has the support of Republicans like former Speaker Paul Ryan. Professor Jim King of the University of Wyoming says her opposition to Trump hasn't ruined her political fortunes, but it has changed them.

JIM KING: You know, she may not any longer be on track to be speaker, but I don't see that she's in a position where she's going to lose in Wyoming.

DAVIS: Cheney's office did not respond to requests for comment, but it's clear she has no plans to lower her voice. She recently told The New York Post that she has not ruled out a future presidential run for herself one day.

Susan Davis, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLICA SONG, "LATELY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.