Cheney to keep her leadership position after tense GOP meeting

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wy., attends a ceremony memorializing U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, as an urn with his cremated remains lies in honor on a black-draped table at the center of the Capitol Rotunda, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
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Rep. Liz Cheney will keep her job as the No. 3 House Republican after a resounding victory on Wednesday evening, easily beating back a conservative-led push to oust her as conference chair for voting to impeach Donald Trump.

The effort by Trump loyalists to punish Cheney, the highest-ranking woman in GOP leadership, had been brewing for weeks and finally came to head during a heated, closed-door meeting that stretched for more than four hours as several dozen members defended or condemned her.

But in the end, the overwhelming majority of House Republicans voted on a secret ballot to keep Cheney in power: 145 Republicans voted against the resolution calling on her to step down, while just 61 voted for it, according to sources with knowledge of the tally.

Cheney’s victory also represents a big win for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who at the start of the “family discussion” offered a full-throated defense of Cheney and made the case for her to stay in leadership — a critical boost for the Wyoming Republican.

McCarthy, who is desperate to turn the page on his party’s internal conflicts, told Republicans they need to be united to win back the House in 2022 and pleaded with his party to move on. And ousting Cheney could have had disastrous optics for the GOP, even though the party remains largely pro-Trump.

After the meeting, the top three GOP leaders held a brief news conference and put on a united front.

“We addressed this as a family, addressed this as a team and ultimately finally worked to have a vote to keep the entire team together and ultimately kept the team much stronger,” said a visibly jubilant McCarthy. “Because while we aired those grievances, everyone tonight was united.”

Cheney told members behind closed doors that she won’t apologize for her impeachment vote, but she defended why she put out a statement on her position a day before the floor vote — timing that incensed many Republicans, since it handed Democrats a fresh batch of talking points. Cheney had been making and fielding calls to members in the run-up to the meeting.

“It was a very resounding acknowledgment that we can move forward together,” Cheney said after the vote. "We're not going to be in a situation where people can pick off any member of leadership."

Now, McCarthy and GOP leaders hope they can put the Cheney chapter behind them and finally rally around a common goal: countering the Biden agenda and climbing their way back to power.

But McCarthy isn’t in the clear. The party is still reeling from the deadly attack on the Capitol, which has sparked a bitter battle for the future of the GOP. Trump is still promising to be a major player in the party. Cheney’s critics are still fuming. And Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) just formed a super PAC to target the pro-Trump wing of the party.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are pushing ahead with a Thursday floor vote on a resolution to strip freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) of her committee assignments over her past incendiary remarks. McCarthy tried to get Democrats to back off, but they didn’t bite on his offer of an alternative form of punishment.

McCarthy is now declining to take punitive action against Greene himself, instead slamming Democrats for their “partisan power grab.” But that means Republicans will be forced to go on the record over Greene — a scenario they were hoping to avoid.

But even as Greene remains defiant publicly, she apologized to the conference for her past rhetoric during the Wednesday night meeting, which earned her a standing ovation from some members.

"She came inside our conference and denounced them as well. She said she was wrong," McCarthy said. "She has reached out in other ways and forms. And nothing that she said has been based upon since she has been a member of Congress."

During the meeting, McCarthy said that while he didn’t agree with Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump, he said she had a right to vote that way. He also said members need to trust their leaders and can’t question every single decision they make.

After leadership addressed the conference, the meeting quickly turned into a “fiery” exchange, as one source inside the room described it. Rep. Daniel Bishop (R-N.C.) kicked things off by formally introducing a resolution calling on Cheney to step down from her post.

Then dozens of lawmakers began lining up at the mics to speak their mind, with members either airing their grievances over Cheney or delivering passionate defenses of the Wyoming Republican.

Lawmakers who were critical of Cheney painted her as out of step with the majority of the conference, where over 120 House Republicans voted to challenge the election resolution and just 10 Republicans voted to impeach Trump. They also argued that, as conference chair, Cheney has a responsibility to be aligned with her party because she is in charge of messaging efforts.

And Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) spoke up and took aim at Cheney’s past effort to support one of his primary challengers — a gripe he first brought up during a private meeting last summer, when conservatives piled onto Cheney over her criticism of Trump.

But Cheney’s supporters argued that the GOP can’t shun voices of dissent inside their ranks and said she had every right to vote her conscience. They also warned that purging Cheney, the highest ranking Republican woman, over her perceived disloyalty to Trump could be disastrous in the next midterms.

During the meeting, Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina — who also voted to impeach Trump — criticized McCarthy for trekking down to Mar-a-Lago last week to make amends with Trump, according to sources inside the room. After that meeting, McCarthy made clear that Trump would be an integral part of the GOP’s efforts to win back the House.

Rice also voiced frustration that a Cheney attack page was posted on WinRed, the GOP’s online fundraising platform designed to be a counterweight to Democrats’ ActBlue.

Some have framed the debate over Cheney as a proxy war for the heart and soul of the post-Trump GOP, which has been wracked by inner turmoil since the deadly insurrection on the Capitol.

"I don't think this is about Liz Cheney. ... This is about the direction of our party, and whether or not we're going to be, you know, a minority dedicated to just one person, or we're going to be a Republican, a united Republican majority,” said Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), who also backed impeachment. “That’s what we’re talking about."