Liz Cheney attacked over support for Fauci during GOP meeting

WASHINGTON — Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., on Tuesday faced down a group of GOP Freedom Caucus critics who complained about her public support for Dr. Anthony Fauci and her support for Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie’s primary opponent.

Cheney, chair of the House GOP Conference, defended Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, during a closed-door conference meeting, according to a source familiar with her remarks.

On May 12, Cheney tweeted: "Dr. Fauci is one of the finest public servants we have ever had. He is not a partisan. His only interest is saving lives. We need his expertise and his judgment to defeat this virus. All Americans should be thanking him. Every day."

The White House has in recent weeks clashed with Fauci, who President Donald Trump recently referred to as "alarmist" over his continued warnings about coronavirus pandemic. Fauci last week called the attempts to discredit him "bizarre."

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who is not a member of the House Freedom Caucus but is closely aligned with Trump, later Tuesday called on Cheney to resign or "be removed" as the House Republican Conference chair. As chair, Cheney is the sole female member of the House GOP leadership.

Gaetz's tweet quickly received support from other prominent Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who compared Cheney to Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the only GOP senator to vote to convict Trump during his impeachment trial.

Tuesday's gathering was the first in-person GOP conference meeting in months; members had been attending them virtually due to coronavirus concerns.

In the meeting, Cheney told Massie that his issue was with Trump, not her. Massie easily beat a primary challenger, Todd McMurtry, in June even after Trump said he had wanted Massie ousted from the Republican Party. Trump had called Massie a “third rate grandstander.”

Cheney had donated to McMurtry, but later asked that the money be returned after past racist social media posts by McMurtry became public.

Cheney also told Gaetz on Tuesday that she looks forward to seeing an upcoming HBO documentary, "The Swamp," about him, Massie and a third Republican congressman, Ken Buck of Colorado.

In public after the meeting, Cheney was muted about the confrontation. Asked about the exchanges by pool reporters on Capitol Hill, she said: “We had an exchange of views, I think it’s very clear we’re all unified in the sense of recognizing the danger the country would face if Joe Biden were elected president; we talked at length about Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and the kind of America we would be living in if they prevailed.”

“Thomas Massie and I are in a good place,” she added.

Asked about Trump Jr.'s tweet later on Tuesday, Cheney said the president's son "is not a member of the House Republican Conference."

CORRECTION (July 22, 2020, 2:50 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article incorrectly suggested that Rep. Matt Gaetz is a member of the House Freedom Caucus. He does not belong to the group.