Five times Liz Cheney was Donald Trump’s biggest thorn on Capitol Hill

·7 min read

Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming is heading into a primary election on Tuesday where her betrayal of Donald Trump in the wake of the January 6 attack is likely to cost her a seat in the House. where just a few years ago she was a powerful member of GOP leadership.

The former Republican conference chair is trailing her top opponent, Harriet Hageman, by almost 30 points in recent polling of the race; some Democrats in the state are reportedly hoping to boost the incumbent congresswoman by switching parties to vote in the GOP primary, which is allowed under state law. But Ms Cheney would need an awful lot of defections to make up the gap that polling shows exists between her and Ms Hageman.

There’s only one reason for that gulf: Ms Cheney’s very public role as the anointed leader of the anti-Trump resistance within the Republican Party. More than any other member of the House or Senate who broke with Mr Trump after the 2020 election or January 6, Ms Cheney has embraced the role of the stoic resistance leader who never missed an opportunity to point out Mr Trump’s role in the horrifiying attack.

She currently serves as vice chair of the January 6 investigatory committee, where only one of her fellow impeachment-supporting Republicans has joined her, and in that role has led the effort to shed sunlight on the efforts of Mr Trump and his team of misfits after the 2020 election and in the days leading up to January 6. She, along with the committee’s almost-entirely Republican cast of witnesses, have become the top targets of the former president’s rage as they returned to TV screens week after week to condemn his actions and demand that the GOP let go of its pathological following of Mr Trump and his family.

Let’s take a look at the most important moments in Liz Cheney’s career as the de facto leader of the anti-Trump GOP:

When she ruined Kevin McCarthy’s press conference

Long before she seemed on track to lose her congressional seat, she was a member of GOP congressional leadership. In that position she did more damage to the GOP’s projection of unity post-2020 than practically anyone could.

Her crowning achievement in this role came during a 2021 press conference hosted by House GOP leadership on Capitol Hill. Flanked by Ms Cheney, his whip Steve Scalise, and other top members of the Republican House caucus, Kevin McCarthy declared just less than two months after the January 6 attack that Mr Trump “should” speak at CPAC, a major gathering of US conservatism.

Ms Cheney, standing directly behind him, was then asked the same question.

“That’s up to CPAC. I’ve been clear on my views about President Trump and the extent to which following...January 6, I don’t believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party, or the country,” she said calmly.

A clearly embarrassed McCarthy then quipped, “on that high note...” and one of the single most awkward moments to occur in the Capitol in recent memory came to an end.

When she took him to task about believing Putin

Even before the November 2020 election and the former president’s months-long campaign to overturn its results, Ms Cheney proved that she could be a thorn in Mr Trump’s side.

The first sign of that came in 2018, following a disastrous joint press conference hosted by Mr Trump alongside Vladimir Putin of Russia. During the Q&A with reporters, Mr Trump lent credence to Russia’s explanation for interference in the 2016 election and cast aspersions on the work of US intelligence agencies that had determined otherwise.

At the time, Ms Cheney was one of the highest-ranking Republicans to lambast the president for his remarks.

“As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am deeply troubled by President Trump’s defense of Putin against the intelligence agencies of the U.S. & his suggestion of moral equivalence between the U.S. and Russia. Russia poses a grave threat to our national security,” she tweeted in response.

A primetime battle with Trump

Alongside Bennie Thompson, Ms Cheney is leading the House investigation into January 6. While the committee’s decisionmaking happens behind closed doors, it’s clear that the pair were eager to challenge Mr Trump on his home turf: America’s TV screens, with a series of public, live-streaming hearings the first and last of which were held in prime time and attracted audiences of millions.

That’s a deliberate move that seeks to break through to the American masses and even challenge Mr Trump’s credibility among Republicans and right-leaning independents with a cast of witnesses made up almost completely of GOP state lawmakers, attorneys, and former members of Donald Trump’s White House.

This battle is only going to heat up: The committee announced at its second primetime hearing, watched by about 18 million people, that it would hold a second set of the bruising presentations in the fall, just weeks before voters choose their congressional representatives in the midterm elections.

Calling in reinforcements

Though it has had little effect on her personal congressional fortune, Ms Cheney has not hesitated to call in the big guns as she wages war against the Trumpist wing of the GOP.

This month, that support appeared in the form of the last Republican vice president, her father Dick Cheney, who excoriated Mr Trump as a threat to the United States the likes of which the republic had never seen before.

“In our nation’s 246 year history there has never been an individual who is a greater threat to our Republic than Donald Trump,” the former vice president, who was reelected along with George W Bush in 2004 with more than 62 million votes, growled in an ad for his daughter in early August.

“He tried to steal the last election,” Mr Cheney declared, “using lies and violence to keep himself in power”.

Lock him up?

In case anyone was concerned that she or the committee’s other Republican member, Adam Kinzinger, weren’t willing to go as far as their Democratic counterparts in holding Donald Trump accountable for the events of Jan 6, Ms Cheney put that to rest in June.

The moment, in fact, was potentially her most public break with Mr Thompson, the committee’s Democratic chair. After he told a journalist in an interview that it was not the committee’s “job” to issue a criminal referral, leaving the matter up to the Justice Department, Ms Cheney stepped in and contradicted him almost immediately.

"The January 6th Select Committee has not issued a conclusion regarding potential criminal referrals. We will announce a decision on that at an appropriate time," she wrote in a tweet posted not even 20 minutes after Mr Thompson made his own remarks to reporters in a Capitol Hill scrum.