Liz Cheney's role on Jan. 6 committee grows after GOP pulls participation

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WASHINGTON — In May, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., was stripped of her role as the third-ranking Republican in the House by fellow party members who said they had tired of her frequent and vocal opposition to former President Donald Trump’s false claims of massive election fraud, as well as her vote to impeach him for inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Just two months later, Cheney’s stature is rising again, this time as the first Republican named to the House select committee charged with investigating that Jan. 6 attack. While her participation has triggered more attacks from Trump and others within her own party, she’s drawing strong reviews from Democrats who praise her work ethic and contributions to the committee thus far.

After Cheney was appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the committee, her role was always meant to send a message of bipartisanship. But when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., pulled his own Republican appointees this week, Cheney’s role has only grown, Democratic aides and lawmakers told NBC News.

She won't be alone — Pelosi on Sunday added another Trump critic, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., to the panel in an effort to bulk up Republican participation — but her role will still be distinct.

“She will definitely have an elevated role and an amplified voice,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the select committee, said in an interview.

He said Cheney speaks for millions of Americans, including Republicans, who are looking for answers to many lingering questions about Jan. 6. “She comes in with a lot of credibility and legitimacy,” he said.

Cheney remains a steadfast opponent of House Democrats on most fronts as well as a vocal and frequent critic of President Joe Biden’s policy agenda, including major issues of taxes, immigration, abortion, national security and government spending.

But she has joined the Democrats on the Jan. 6 committee seamlessly, those members say, gaining trust that is rarely found across the political aisle, especially after the attack on the Capitol. She attends Zoom and in-person preparation meetings and has displayed an impressive level of commitment, knowledge and a “ferocious” work ethic.

“If you close your eyes, in our meetings, our Zooms, you wouldn't be able to distinguish which voice she was,” committee member Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said. “That's the truth. We're all talking about next steps and process and what we want to get out of this, and she's been a committed partner in that.”

The members have also been in regular contact through a group text established by the panel’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. One Democratic member called her “brilliant.”

“In the meetings that we've had thus far, she is very determined to get to the truth, and operates in a very no-nonsense fashion,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said of Cheney.

She has joined the group for two meetings in Pelosi’s office and spoken with her on the phone at least once, when Pelosi offered her a position on the committee. Cheney accepted the position but told Pelosi she couldn’t go to the news conference announcing the picks because she had to take her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, to the doctor, a source familiar with the conversation said.

Before Jan. 6, it would have been unimaginable to think that the most powerful Democrat in Congress, known for her political prowess and progressive résumé, would tap a deeply conservative, politically astute and Teflon-tough Republican politician who also happens to be the daughter of a vice president that Democrats bitterly battled for decades.

But the interests of the two women have merged with their public insistence that vital questions about the attack on their place of work must still be answered.

That connection was strengthened this week when Cheney came to Pelosi’s defense after the speaker refused to accept two of McCarthy’s committee selections — Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Jim Banks, R-Ind. — with Cheney insisting the investigation “must go forward” and declaring she is “absolutely dedicated and committed to making sure that this investigation holds those accountable who did this and ensures that it never happens again.”

“She resonated with Speaker Pelosi this week because both of them are, you know, women in a male-dominated profession who are not going to be pushed around,” Raskin said.

Pelosi’s rejection of the two Republicans is what led to McCarthy pulling all of his appointees, forgoing GOP representation, except for Cheney.

Pelosi even toasted Cheney. In one meeting with the committee members, Pelosi raised a glass of water, saying, “Let us salute Liz Cheney for her courage.”

Cheney has little in common with most of her Democratic colleagues.

Raskin, a constitutional lawyer and professor, and Cheney have vastly different perspectives about constitutional law and issues of war and the role of government. But they, too, have found common ground.

Raskin said that during a recent phone conversation between the two, Cheney asked him a question about First Amendment law on behalf of her son who is entering law school. Raskin, who lost his son, who was also in law school, to suicide this past winter, said he’s going to work on the answer this weekend and that the discussion touched him.

“I'm somebody who completely mixes my political life and commitments with my family life,” Raskin said. “Our kids have always been part of what we're doing, and I think that, you know, her kids are also very much on her mind and in her heart during this time.”

Her district went for Trump by almost 44 points, while Raskin’s district went for Biden by more than 40.

Cheney has already put her stamp on the committee. She has requested that a Republican adviser be hired and has requested former Virginia Rep. Denver Riggleman, a source familiar with the committee’s discussions said. Riggleman was defeated in a primary during the 2020 election cycle and has since gathered extensive research on extremism.

“I think she brings a very important perspective, and I think she brings a conservative stature and pedigree that will be valued,” Schiff said of Cheney.

Because the committee is still in the beginning stages, its members have not yet divvied up roles or assignments. But members point to her background in national security as an asset in helping understand domestic terrorism and extremism.

Unsurprisingly, Republican members have distanced themselves from her as an outlier in the GOP.

“I think she’s put herself on a little bit of an island,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said of Cheney.

But living in House Republican exile seems to be her only punishment for the time being. McCarthy had earlier warned his members that anyone taking a select committee post from Pelosi could be putting their other committee assignments at risk. So far he has not acted on that threat.

Asked how Republicans should interact with Cheney, McCarthy said, “The way we interact with any Democrat in the process.”

Cheney’s participation is unlikely to win her further support among Republican voters. Trump has made his desire to see her defeated in a GOP primary clear, and at least a half-dozen Republicans in Wyoming have stated their intention to run. But she’s raised more than $3 million for her re-election bid since Jan. 6 and members of the committee say she seems undeterred.

“Liz Cheney feels the urgency of this task in her bones,” Raskin said. “She was there on Jan. 6, and she has not suppressed her memories of profound danger.”