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UPDATED, with remarks from Kevin McCarthy: Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who refused to stay silent about Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, was ousted from House Republican Leadership on Wednesday, as expected, with a big contrast in how the moment was covered by cable news networks.
In the 9 am ET hour, CNN focused almost entirely on the pending vote, MSNBC devoted slightly less coverage, while Fox News largely stuck to other stories, including the unfolding gas pipeline shutdown and gas shortages in the southeast. Fox did go live for Cheney’s remarks after the closed-door vote, but after a few words, anchors Bill Hemmer and Dana Perino then went on to other stories.
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“I will do everything I can to make sure the former president never gets near the Oval Office,” Cheney told reporters afterward.
Cheney was ousted after GOP members expressed unhappiness with her criticisms of Trump and his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Cheney was among the 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Trump for inciting the riot.
On Tuesday evening, Cheney spoke in the House chamber and warned members of the perils of ignoring Trump’s continued insistence on spreading the “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.
“Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar. I will not participate in that,” she said.
But a majority of House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, said that her focus on Jan. 6 was distracting the party from the need to win back the House in 2020.
“I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. I think that is all over with. We’re sitting here with the president today,” McCarthy told reporters at the White House after a meeting with President Joe Biden. As Cheney noted, Trump continues to question the election. Cheney’s potential successor, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) earlier this week supported an unofficial recount of ballots in Maricopa, AZ, which is being spearheaded by state Republicans.
The whole exercise of ousting Cheney from the No. 3 position in GOP leadership unsettled some Republican senators, including Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), who called it a form of cancel culture, an issue that has drawn non stop attention among lawmakers and media on the right.
The vote itself, taking place behind closed doors, was hardly compelling television. And the intra party leadership squabble in the past has largely been of insider interest on Capitol Hill and among fervent political junkies.
But a chorus of TV anchors, columnists and never Trump Republican commentators sounded the alarm over Cheney’s pending ouster, seeing it as a key moment in the transformation of the party and its adherence to the former president. The fear is that he will back primary challenges to those who criticize him.
“The Republican party has surrendered to a lie as it surrenders to Trump and, let’s not mince words, it means that American democracy is in really big trouble,” Chuck Todd said on MSNBC’s Meet the Press Daily last week.
With commentary and coverage, CNN certainly drove that point home throughout the morning, featuring a live shot outside the Capitol meeting room where Republicans had gathered. Among those interviewed were Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), a remaining vocal Trump critic among House Republicans, and Rachel Vindman, who talked about leaving the GOP and launching a podcast devoted to the views of suburban women.
“A flashpoint moment for the Republican Party,” CNN’s Jim Sciutto said, noting that they were about to oust Liz Cheney “because she told the truth.”
CNN’s Manu Raju, reporting from the Capitol, broke the news of Cheney’s remarks inside the meeting, and MSNBC’s Garrett Haake soon followed.
“I think this is a big win for Liz, but the problem is she doesn’t have a party after today,” commentator Matthew Dowd said on MSNBC, as Stephanie Ruhle anchored.
Cheney’s ouster has gotten coverage on Fox News — Chris Wallace pressed Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) about it on Fox News Sunday — but the event itself was downplayed on Wednesday.
The network returned to the story in the 10 AM hour with a segment featuring congressional correspondent Chad Pergram, and Special Report anchor Bret Baier offered his take, but it was largely through a political lens of how it will impact the 2022 midterms. “I do think there are rare times when there are moments of political courage,” Baier said. “Whether you agree with Liz Cheney or not, she is not caring about the polls. She is standing on what she says is principle, and she is going to have the consequences of that come election time in Wyoming.”
In the immediate aftermath of the election, Trump, upset over Fox News coverage, urged his Twitter followers to migrate to other networks, like Newsmax and One America, more zealous in covering his post-election claims. Since the inauguration, Fox News has increased its nighttime hours devoted to opinion programming, with hosts largely favorable to Trump, and to its coverage during the daytime hours to segments on “cancel culture.”
In a statement released Wednesday, Trump said, “Liz Cheney is a bitter, horrible human being. I watched her yesterday and realized how bad she is for the Republican Party. She has no personality or anything good having to do with politics or our Country.” He predicted that she would end up as a “Paid Contributor on CNN or MSDNC,” even though she remains in Congress, just not in GOP leadership.
Happening later on Wednesday morning was a House Oversight hearing on the Jan. 6 riot — and the coverage played out in a similar fashion to that of the Cheney story. CNN carried the hearing live, MSNBC devoted segments to it, Fox News had little at all. The latter network’s anchors did report on it during the afternoon.
Trump’s election claims are a particularly fraught topic for Fox News. The network is defending itself against two defamation lawsuits filed by Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems. The two companies contend that Fox News personalities and guests spread conspiracy theories that they were involved in rigging the election in favor of Biden. Fox News has defended its coverage, saying that its focus on post-election claims of the president was protected by the First Amendment.
Cheney survived a vote in February to oust her from her position, but the latest effort seemed to gain new momentum after she greeted Biden with a fist bump when he delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress last month.
After the vote, Cheney sat down with NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie. Cheney said, “I intend to be the leader, one of the leaders, in a fight to help to restore our party, in a fight to bring our party back to substance and principles, and in a fight to make clear that we won’t participate in the really dangerous effort that’s under way.” The interview will air on Today on Thursday, and portions on NBC Nightly News on Wednesday evening.
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