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Liz Cheney and Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Kevin McCarthy tried to get Liz Cheney to apologize for how she handled her vote to impeach former President Trump before last week's highly anticipated House GOP conference meeting — a request she refused, two people with direct knowledge told Axios.

Why it matters: Cheney rolled the dice, refusing her leader's ask and counting on her supporters to keep her as conference chair, the party's No. 3 post in the House. Newly empowered, she's now embracing her role as the Republicans' Trump critic-in-chief.

What we're hearing: McCarthy, who hesitated in the first place about holding a vote to oust Cheney, told her privately hours before Wednesday's caucus meeting that their members wanted to hear her say she was sorry.

  • He also suggested it could sway some of her opponents.
  • Cheney's team, though, did a whip count, and she was confident she'd secure at least 142 votes, the sources said.

Inside the room: "Several members have asked me to apologize for the vote, they’ve asked my colleagues who also voted to impeach to apologize for the vote," Cheney (R-Wyo.) told her colleagues.

  • "I cannot do that. It was a vote of conscience. It was a vote of principle — a principle on which I stand and still believe."
  • Toward the end of last week's four-plus hour meeting, Cheney and members of the House Freedom Caucus demanded — for opposite reasons — that the conference take a vote. She ended up winning 145-61.

What to watch: Cheney is now looking to take advantage of her heightened profile.

  • On Monday, she'll hold a virtual fundraising event, according to a copy of an invitation obtained by Axios.
  • Notable guests include former House Speaker John Boehner; Sara Bonjean, a GOP fundraiser and wife of former congressional leadership aide Ron Bonjean; former Florida Rep. Ilheana Ros-Lehtinen; and former George W. Bush official Maria Cino.

She also doubled down on her condemnation of the former president during a Fox News interview Sunday, telling Chris Wallace that Trump “does not have a role as the leader of our party going forward.”

  • "People have been lied to," Cheney said. "President Trump, for months leading up to January 6th, spread the notion that the election had been stolen ... and people need to understand that."

But, but, but: The criticism hasn't completely faded for Cheney.

  • The Wyoming Republican Party voted Saturday to censure her over the Trump impeachment vote.
  • She also retains numerous critics in the Freedom Caucus and national Republican circles.

Editor's Note: The headline and lede on this story have been updated to reflect that Kevin McCarthy asked Liz Cheney to apologize for how she handled the impeachment vote.

Go deeper

Wyoming GOP censures Liz Cheney for voting to impeach Trump

Representative Liz Cheney outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Dec. 10, 2020. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Wyoming Republican Party voted Saturday to formally censure U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House, for voting to impeach former President Trump for a charge of inciting an insurrection at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Cheney and the nine other Republican lawmakers that voted to impeach Trump have faced backlash from constituents in their home states, and from members of their own party in Congress.

Biden explains justification for Syria strike in letter to Congress

Photo: Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden told congressional leadership in a letter Saturday that this week's airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to Iranian-backed militia groups was consistent with the U.S. right to self-defense.

Why it matters: Some Democrats, including Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), have criticized the Biden administration for the strike and demanded a briefing.

6 hours ago - Health

FDA authorizes Johnson & Johnson's one-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

Photo: Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday issued an emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson's one-shot coronavirus vaccine.

Why it matters: The authorization of a third coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. will help speed up the vaccine rollout across the country, especially since the J&J shot only requires one dose as opposed to Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech's two-shot vaccines.