May 1, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: GOP leaders threaten Cheney ouster

Rep. Liz Cheney speaks to President Biden before his Wednesday speech to a joint session of Congress.

Rep. Liz Cheney speaks to President Biden before his Wednesday speech to a joint session of Congress. Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Top Republicans are turning on Rep. Liz Cheney, the party’s highest-ranking woman in Congress, with one conservative leader suggesting she could be ousted from her GOP post within a month.

Why it matters: The comments by Reps. Steve Scalise, the minority whip, and Jim Banks, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, carry weight because of their close relationship with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — who is openly feuding with Cheney.

  • Banks (R-Ind.), leader of the largest conservative caucus in the House, told Axios Friday that Cheney's continued criticisms are "an unwelcome distraction," and he questioned whether she would retain her leadership role in a month.
  • Banks' comments were echoed more diplomatically by Scalise (R-La.), the No. 2 Republican in the House.
  • During an interview with Axios on Friday, he said of Cheney: "This idea that you just disregard President Trump is not where we are, and, frankly, he has a lot to offer still.”
  • Earlier in the week, McCarthy himself told reporters: "If you're sitting here at a retreat that's focused on policy, focused on the future of making American next-century, and you're talking about something else, you're not being productive."

Cheney (R-Wyo.) told reporters during several interviews at a GOP retreat in Orlando, Florida, that anyone challenging the 2020 election results should be disqualified from a presidential campaign in 2024, and that she herself would not rule out a run.

  • She also said a commission to examine the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection should be narrowly focused — not the wide-ranging probe McCarthy favors.
  • In addition, Cheney characterized a memo Banks wrote about how the party could retain working-class voters as "neo-Marxist."

What they're saying: Banks said such comments detracted from a unified focus about how to beat the Democrats in the 2022 midterms.

  • "That’s what we got out of Liz Cheney, which doesn’t help us remain focused on that single goal," the congressman said during an interview he offered to Axios.
  • "Her lack of focus on that, while being focused on other things, and proving her point, was an unwelcome distraction."
  • “The sort of sideline distractions at the GOP retreat will only serve to hold us back from being focused on that nearly unanimous goal we have as a conference," Banks added.

Asked whether he thought Cheney, who serves in the No. 3 party role as GOP conference chair, will retain that position in a month, Banks said, "I don't know."

  • “That’s up to her," he added. "I think a lot of us would like to see her join the team, be on the same team, same mission, the same focus. And at this point, that’s what many of us are questioning."
  • Banks said his view didn't just go up the leadership ranks but down through the House GOP rank-and-file.
  • The Republican Study Committee has 154 members, the largest group among the 212 Republicans currently serving in the House.

But, but, but: McCarthy and Cheney have been at odds publicly since she both voted in favor of Trump's second impeachment and blamed him for the Jan. 6 assault.

  • McCarthy initially faulted Trump for inciting the mob but later backed off and visited him at Mar a Lago as he sought the former president's help in winning back the House next year.
  • In February, the House GOP conference held a secret ballot about whether to retain Cheney in her current role and she won overwhelmingly, 145-61.
  • A Cheney spokesperson declined to comment on Banks' criticisms. While Cheney says she also is committed to regaining Republican control of the House in 2022, she has noted Trump lost the White House in 2020, while the GOP also lost control of the Senate.

The other side: “Whatever conference decides we should do it quickly because I don’t think anyone believes this dynamic is particularly healthy right now," said Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio).

  • "As for me, I think having diverse perspectives in leadership is important. It means we can have a bigger tent such that we aren’t turning people away from the party who would otherwise be inclined to support us. Given that we are completely out of power, we need to be responsibly adding as many voices and voters as possible, not subtracting them.”
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