WASHINGTON — House Republicans are planning a vote on Wednesday to remove Rep. Liz Cheney from the No. 3 position in caucus leadership after she vocally rebuked Donald Trump, a move that signals the party’s refusal to abandon the former president.
Cheney, who voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 riot, responded to the former president’s most recent claim last week that the 2020 election was “fraudulent,” calling his words “THE BIG LIE.”
The secret-ballot vote on Cheney is widely expected to result in her being removed from leadership, and party leaders have coalesced around elevating Rep. Elise Stefanik, a staunch Trump ally who represents an upstate New York district. The vote to replace Cheney hasn’t been scheduled yet.
The clash between Cheney and Trump has caused consternation among some House Republican lawmakers who are weary of having the leadership fight overshadow their criticism of President Joe Biden or answering for the ex-president’s ongoing false claims about the election.
“Having heard from so many of you in recent days, it’s clear that we need to make a change. As such, you should anticipate a vote on recalling the Conference Chair this Wednesday,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., wrote in a letter on Monday, after days of mobilizing to oust Cheney.
Republicans have sought to cast her ouster as a move to unify the party ahead of next year’s midterm elections, in which they’re hopeful they can gain seats and capture control of the House.
McCarthy’s letter contains some contradictions that reflect the party’s struggles to navigate Trump.
He implicitly criticized Cheney for “relitigating the past” despite the fact that she was responding to Trump’s ongoing statements about the past. He called on Republicans to focus their criticism on Democrats’ agenda, which Trump has said little about. He labeled the GOP a “big tent party” of “free thought and debate” while arguing for the ouster of a conference chair who broke with Trump.
Cheney held her ground during a speech Tuesday evening.
“I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy,” she said on the House floor. “The Trump Department of Justice investigated the former president’s claims of widespread fraud and found no evidence to support them. The election is over. That is the rule of law.”
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who served in the House from 2013 to 2019, said he “can certainly understand why” his former colleagues want to remove Cheney, saying her message is not one “that’s reflective of a majority of where the Republican Party is right now.”
“What they are saying is if you’re going to be our leader, you have to be more of a reflection of the tent, not just a corner of it,” Cramer said Tuesday.
GOP strategists are torn about the political impact of Cheney’s removal, with some arguing it would further alienate Trump-skeptical voters, particularly in the suburbs.
“The suburban voters who’ve switched voting from Republican to Democrat are the new swing voters in American politics,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. “It remains to be seen whether they are permanently in the Democratic camp or come back to the Republicans. But the suburban voters who are most at risk of becoming permanent Democrats are the college-educated suburban women. And removing someone like Liz Cheney pushes them further away from the GOP.”
But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the party is worse off if it rejects the former president.
“We need everybody in the party but we’re not going to erase Donald Trump. And she’s been advocating that we can’t go forward with him. And I’m saying you can’t go forward without him,” he told reporters Monday. “I like Liz Cheney, but the damage done from trying to drive Donald Trump out of the party is greater than keeping him in the party.”
House Republicans are expected to meet at 9 a.m. in the Capitol, a regular meeting that Cheney, as the conference chair, is tasked with organizing. Once a member calls for a vote of no confidence against her, and Republican leaders deem the matter one of “immediate importance,” a vote will take place and a simple majority would be needed to remove her from her position.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said GOP plans to remove Cheney resembled “cancel culture” and that even though she supports Trump, Republicans shouldn’t try to “silence others” in the party.
Cheney, who represents Wyoming and is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, has no plans to resign from Congress and intends to run for re-election, according to a source familiar with her thinking, despite having numerous opponents already challenging her in a party primary. She hopes to be a leading voice on her vision of the Republican Party, which she outlined in a Washington Post op-ed last week.
“The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution,” she wrote. “The question before us now is whether we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have.”
Some Democrats say the move against Cheney means Republicans are giving up on democracy and becoming a cult of Trump.
“It’s appalling that the Republican Party seems to be solely captured by this big lie. They so want to please Donald Trump that they go along,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Tuesday. “In the House, Ms. Cheney — Liz Cheney spoke truth to power, and now they’re firing her.”