Why is Liz Cheney fighting for her political life?

Daughter of ex-VP may be political powerhouse, writes Andrew Buncombe, but she crossed Donald Trump

Tuesday 26 January 2021 16:29
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<p>These are difficult days for Liz Cheney</p>

These are difficult days for Liz Cheney

Dial the clock back barely two years and things were looking rather rosy for Liz Cheney.

It is true that Republicans had just lost control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, but Cheney seized on that opening to push for a leadership role in the party – the number three in the the lower chamber of Congress, and the GOP’s chief communicator there.

“Although the 115th Congress has been one of the most productive in history, our message isn’t breaking through,” she wrote in a letter to colleagues, asking to be appointed the party’s House Republican Conference Chair.

“Despite the tremendous success of the Trump economy, tax cuts, historic regulatory reform, and crucial efforts to begin rebuilding our military and restoring American strength and power, we will be in the minority in the 116th Congress.

“For us to prevail in this new environment, we must fundamentally overhaul and modernise our House GOP communications operation.”

Cheney’s message, helped no doubt by her being the eldest daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, appeared to work. While having only served in Congress one term, and despite serving the least populated state in the country – Wyoming’s population is just 580,000 – Cheney got the job, making her the third most senior Republican in the House, and the highest-ranking Republican woman.

Yet, the waters are suddenly looking less smooth for Cheney, after last month being one of just 10 Republicans who voted to impeachDonald Trump, after Democrats charged him with inciting an insurrection.

The GOP leadership in the House did not issue a so-called whip of its members, saying it was a vote of conscience.

For Cheney, who was in the joint session of Congress at the US Capitol when it was stormed by hundreds of supporters of Mr Trump, adamant that the victory of Joe Biden was rigged, it was certainly seen in such terms.

Liz Cheney responds to calls to step down after impeachment vote

And she very clearly believed responsibility lay with Trump, who on the afternoon of 6 January issued a video message saying he loved his supporters but that it was time for them to go home.

“[He] summoned this mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack,” Cheney said. “Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the president.

“The president could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the constitution.”

To some, Cheney, who shares her father’s hawkish views on national security and US foreign policy, was instantly a hero, standing up for what was right, even if it was politically inconvenient.

To others, she was a traitor, siding with Democrats seeking to impeach Trump with barely a week left in office. As it was, Trump was impeached for a second time, by a vote of 232-197. He is the only US president to have been impeached twice.

If Democrats have their way, he will become the first president to be convicted by the Senate when the chamber gathers to consider the House’s single case against him next week.

Almost immediately after Cheney voted to impeach, Trump loyalists demanded she be ousted from her leadership position, and began circulating a petition for legislators to sign.

“I don’t think she should be the chair of the Republican conference any more,” congressman Andy Biggs, the head of the House Freedom Caucus, told Fox News. “The reality is she’s not representing the conference; she’s not representing the Republican ideals.”

Cheney refused to budge.

“I'm not going anywhere. This is a vote of conscience,” she told Politico.

“It's one where there are different views in our conference. But our nation is facing an unprecedented, since the civil war, constitutional crisis. That's what we need to be focused on.”

Another Trump loyalist, Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, has also been pushing for Cheney to stand aside, perhaps with an eye for himself on taking her leadership spot. Late last month, Gaetz travelled to Wyoming to rally against Cheney outside the state capitol building in Cheyenne.

In Wyoming, a Republican state senator, Anthony Bouchard, has already said he will challenge Cheney if she runs again in two years. The 54-year-old, who has five children with her husband, lawyer and former Bush official Philip Perry, has previously indicated that she intended to run again, saying speculation by Trump that she wouldn’t was just “wishful thinking”.

“Liz Cheney’s long-time opposition to president Trump and her most recent vote for impeachment shows just how out-of-touch she is with Wyoming,” Bouchard said.

Meanwhile, the Republican leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy said in an interview with Gray TV he supported her, but that he had concerns.

“She took a position as a number three member in conference, she never told me ahead of time [about her plan to vote to impeach],” he said. “One thing about leadership, if we're going to work together, we should understand.” 

Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist who splits his time between DC and Texas, tells The Independent he believes Cheney will survive. Yet, he says it is essential she spends more time talking to her fellow members of Congress.

“I think Republicans are going to be focused on uniting to oppose Biden’s agenda,” he says. “But she has to get through this bit of difficulty. I think  McCarthy wants her to talk to the members. The question is whether she can remain effective as conference chair – and I think she can.

“Liz Cheney is a powerhouse. She's a very effective member of Congress. She's very intelligent. She is particularly strong on national security and foreign policy. I think she will  survive.”

Former President Donald Trump arrives at Palm Beach International Airport in Florida after leaving the White House

Cheney’s younger sister, Mary, also works works in politics, running a number of conservative action groups. She married her wife, Heather Poe, in 2012. The following year she sent an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court, in support of same sex marriage. At the time, Liz Cheney said she did not support same sex marriage, causing something of a rift.

“Liz – this isn’t just an issue on which we disagree, you’re just wrong – and on the wrong side of history,” Mary Cheney wrote on Facebook. 

Her wife, Poe, wrote: “Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children, and when Mary and I got married in 2012 – she didn’t hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us. To have her say she doesn’t support our right to marry is offensive to say the least.”

It remains unclear whether the siblings have patched over their differences. Liz Cheney failed to respond to several inquiries.

The controversy over impeachment was not the first time Cheney and Trump had quarrelled. In the summer, she criticised him over failing to support Dr Anthony Fauci’s call for the wearing of face marks and for failing to investigate Russia’s alleged paying of bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops.

“Liz Cheney is only upset because I have been actively getting our great and beautiful Country out of the ridiculous and costly Endless Wars,”  he tweeted. “I am also making our so-called allies pay tens of billions of dollars in delinquent military costs. They must, at least, treat us fairly!”

The current spat playing out among Republicans over Cheney’s vote for impeachment, is likely a pointer to how the party will spend much of its energy and efforts in the months to come.

Much will depend on how the Senate votes; if Mitch McConnell makes no attempt to defend Trump in the upper chamber, it is likely he too would face a primary challenger, though he knows he does not face reelection for another six years. He knows that is a cushion that can probably help him ignore some of the pro-Trump loyalists shouting in his ear.

Christina Greer, a Professor of political science at New York’s Fordham University, says it is possible that as Republicans consider their future, more may decide to follow the example of Cheney, rather than Trump.

“Some people will remain unmoved [by what happened on 6 January],” she says. “But others might say, ‘I don't like this being the representation of my party, people with guns and swastikas and Confederate flags’.

“There are lots of Republicans who are Republican because of the value system, and they don't like this idea of being known as white nationalists and people who would disrespect the country the way we saw on on 6 January.”

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