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For continuing to call out the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming may soon lose her position as chair of the House Republican Conference, the No. 3 position in the party’s leadership.
It’s the latest proof that much of the party remains in the thrall of the former president, a bizarre state of affairs that also explains insidious efforts by Republican state legislators to make it harder to vote.
Three months ago House Republicans voted privately to retain Cheney in her leadership position, despite criticism of her vote to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. But now she is facing a challenge from Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who has been endorsed by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).
Cheney also seems to have lost the support of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), who after rightly saying that Trump bore responsibility for the Jan. 6 riots has reverted to the role of Trump toady. He was recorded Tuesday saying that "I've lost confidence" in Cheney.
For some of her fellow Republicans, Cheney’s sin seems to be that she doesn’t genuflect at the altar of the great god Trump. Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Texas) tweeted on Tuesday that “Trump is still the LEADER of the GOP, Liz! I look forward to her being removed SOON!"
For other Republicans, Cheney’s offense isn’t that she voted to impeach Trump but that she insists on continuing to speak the truth about the former president. According to a report in the New York Times, some Republicans fear that Cheney’s refusal to stop criticizing Trump or condemning the events of Jan. 6 “could weaken the party’s message going into the 2022 midterm elections, when they hope to portray Democrats as big-government socialists so villainous they should be voted out of the majority.”
But Cheney, a stalwart conservative, is on record criticizing President Biden's spending plans. The only message her truth-telling weakens is that Trump won the election. It’s not her fault that many of her fellow Republicans have bought into Trump’s fantasy about breathtakingly widespread election fraud (or pretended to buy into it, for fear of offending his supporters).
In a powerful op-ed column published in the Washington Post this week, Cheney wrote: "The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution." Many of Cheney's colleagues have made their decision, and they've chosen loyalty to Trump.
Unfair as Cheney’s ouster from leadership would be, it’s an internal Republican matter. A far more noxious consequence of the Republican Party’s continued embrace of Trump and his Big Lie is the effort by Republican-controlled legislatures to make it harder to vote, especially but not exclusively for groups that lean Democratic. Florida recently followed Georgia in approving legislation ostensibly to solve a nonexistent problem of rampant election fraud, but whose real effect will likely be to reduce the number of ballots cast and counted.
Meanwhile, in Arizona, the Republican-controlled state Senate has engineered an unnecessary “audit” of 2020 votes in the state’s most populous county, which, like the state as a whole, was carried by Biden. (In a statement, Trump said: “Thank you State Senators and others in Arizona for commencing this full forensic audit. I predict the results will be startling!”) The review is being carried out by a cybersecurity contractor with no experience in voting systems; among other idiotic pursuits, it is examining the ballots for bamboo fibers on the suspicion that thousands of counterfeit ballots were shipped in from China.
Democrats, who narrowly control both houses of Congress, need to move quickly to minimize the damage from the Republicans’ embrace of Trump’s Big Lie and the related notion that election law must be changed to dispel concerns about “election integrity” that are rooted in that lie. The House has already acted; now it's up to the Senate to approve key provisions at least of the For the People Act — including requirements for early voting and widespread voting by mail — and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. If enacting those reforms requires ending the filibuster, so be it.
Republicans are free to punish truth-tellers in their party for refusing to bow down to Trump. But they must not be allowed to undermine the right of Americans of all parties (and none) to exercise the most important obligation of a citizen in a democracy.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.