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WASHINGTON — House Republicans stripped Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., of a leadership position Wednesday, rejecting her insistence that the GOP tell the truth about the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Cheney was defiant after the vote. She told reporters that she had spoken to her Republican colleagues and told them she was “absolutely committed … that we must go forward based on truth.”
“We cannot both embrace the ‘big lie’ and embrace the Constitution,” she said, referring to former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about last year’s election.
Cheney said the vote signaled an existential fight for the soul of the GOP and the preservation of democracy. “I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office,” she said. “We have seen the danger that he continues to provoke with his language. We have seen his lack of commitment and dedication to the Constitution.”
The House GOP’s 212 members met behind closed doors and conducted a voice vote, despite calls by Cheney backers such as Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., that they make the vote public.
Journalist Jake Sherman of Punchbowl News reported that before the vote, Cheney told her colleagues, “If you want leaders who will enable and spread his destructive lies, I’m not your person, you have plenty of others to choose from. That will be their legacy.”
Cheney was removed from the No. 3 spot in the House GOP, which is known as the House Republican Conference chair. Republicans are expected to replace her with Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York.
The vote marks a significant moment for the Republican Party.
Some GOP politicians claimed anonymously that it was Cheney who chose to keep talking about Jan. 6 unnecessarily, pointing to the fact that she easily won a vote on her leadership on Feb. 3, which was sparked by her vote to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection. Nine other House Republicans voted to impeach as well.
The Washington Examiner’s Byron York argued that, as a nameless House Republican told him, Cheney wouldn’t stop talking about Jan. 6 and that she had “changed.”
But what changed since Feb. 3 was that Trump began to talk more publicly in general, and specifically began to ramp up the same lies about the 2020 election that resulted in death, destruction and an assault on democracy on Jan. 6.
On Feb. 28, Trump gave his first public speech since leaving office, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). He not only continued to lie about the election result, but also added another conspiracy on top of it, claiming without evidence that the U.S. legal system is broken and should have handed him the victory.
“This election was rigged, and the Supreme Court and other courts didn’t want to do anything about it,” Trump said. Over 60 lawsuits filed on his behalf were rejected by courts all over the country.
Trump riled up the crowd, prompting them to chant, “You won, you won!”
Four days prior to CPAC, Cheney had caused House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy embarrassment when reporters asked him if Trump should be speaking at the conference.
“Yes, he should,” said McCarthy, who initially blamed Trump for the violent assault on the Capitol but later backtracked. McCarthy visited with Trump just three weeks after the insurrection to seek his support.
Reporters prodded Cheney to answer the same question as McCarthy. She stepped to the microphone and said, “That’s up to CPAC. I’ve been clear on my views about President Trump and the extent to which, following Jan. 6, I don’t believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.”
McCarthy’s face fell. He made a joke and ended the press conference.
Until that point, Trump’s public statements had been sparse, issued by email every few days. They ramped up a bit in March, and on March 20 he sent out a statement saying that “we had an Illegitimate Election.”
“The Supreme Court and other Courts were afraid to rule, they were ‘gutless,’ and will go down in history as such,” Trump wrote.
On April 2, Trump issued a similar statement that continued to promote his lie. “There was massive fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election, and many very angry people understand that,” he wrote.
Trump’s Easter Sunday statement two days later: “Happy Easter to ALL, including the Radical Left CRAZIES who rigged our Presidential Election, and want to destroy our Country!”
On April 5, he issued a lengthy statement in which he detailed several false and unsupported claims of various types of election fraud, again echoing what had become known as the “big lie.”
On April 14, Trump attacked Cheney as “crazy” and said he would endorse a primary challenger to try to unseat her.
On April 27, he called Cheney a “warmongering fool” and said that “there is no way she can win” her next election. Cheney had contradicted McCarthy’s statement that Trump is the leader of the GOP. “Our elected leaders are the ones who are in charge of the Republican Party,” she said.
On May 3, Trump tried to take the term “big lie” and turn it back on those who called out his own falsehoods. “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!” he said in a statement. He took another shot at Cheney that day as well.
Later that day, Cheney responded on Twitter.
“The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system,” she wrote.
Two days later, McCarthy had turned on Cheney and had begun working to oust her.
That same day, Trump said Cheney “continues to unknowingly and foolishly say that there was no Election Fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election.”
And on Wednesday morning, about 30 minutes before the House GOP voted against Cheney, Trump issued a statement calling her “a poor leader, a major Democrat talking point, a warmonger, and a person with absolutely no personality or heart.”
After the vote, Trump once again weighed in. “Liz Cheney is a bitter, horrible human being,” he wrote. “I watched her yesterday and realized how bad she is for the Republican Party. She has no personality or anything good having to do with politics or our Country.”
Cheney, however, said that “the nation needs a strong Republican Party … a party that is based upon fundamental principles of conservatism” and that she plans “to lead the fight” to take the GOP in that direction.
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