The Wyoming congresswoman gave an impassioned speech from the House floor Tuesday night, but it was not enough to stave off punishment for labeling former President Donald Trump a threat to U.S. democracy.
WASHINGTON (CN) — By a voice vote Wednesday, Congresswoman Liz Cheney was removed from her leadership position as chairwoman of the Republican Conference, the party’s third highest posting.
The decision took place behind closed doors, the culmination of months of party infighting over the Wyoming representative’s outspoken criticism of their erstwhile leader, former President Donald Trump, over his false claims of election fraud and his role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
After President Joe Biden took office, Cheney said in February that Trump shouldn’t speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference if he continued his dangerous rhetoric. This month, the congresswoman published an opinion piece in the Washington Post outlining Trump’s calculated threat to critical parts of American democracy.
The position brought condemnation from Trump loyalists, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and No. 2 GOP leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana soon rallying behind the cause to take away her position. Denying that it was Cheney’s view of Trump that must be quashed, they said she undermined the party unity needed to win back the House in the next election by expressing these views publicly.
Cheney, who is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, made her position clear again again Tuesday night in a speech on the House floor. She said Trump was a threat the nation had never seen before, and that his aggressive effort to convince Americans the 2020 election was illegitimate risks further violence and division.
“Millions of Americans have been misled by the former president,” Cheney said. “They have heard only his words, not the truth as he continues to undermine our Democratic process, sowing seeds of doubt about whether our Democracy really works at all.”
The idea of democratic decay is one on the forefront minds of world leaders. President Biden, during the first news conference of his term, told reporters their grandchildren or children might write doctoral theses on the success of autocracy or democracy — and in the current moment, both ideas are competing.
It was clear, Biden said, that the current battle facing world freedom was between autocracies and democracies.
“If you notice, you don’t have Russia talking about communism anymore, it’s an autocracy,” Biden said. “Demand decisions made by the leader of a country, that’s what’s at stake here. We’ve got to prove Democracy works.”
Cheney emphasized during her speech Tuesday night the issue was not one of partisanship or policy, but about American duty and loyalty to the rule of law as a lawmaker. She would not sit back in silence to watch Republicans join a crusade with Trump to undermine that American democracy, Cheney said.
She brought up the GOP’s history as the party of Ronald Regan, as one that abhorred communism. That image is jeopardized, Cheney said, as America embarks on another cold war akin to the stalemate with Russia — this time with China.
“Attacks against our democratic process and the rule of law empower our advisories and feed communist propaganda that American democracy is a failure,” Cheney said. “We must speak the truth: Our election was not stolen, and America has not failed.”
Cheney quoted a message she received from gold star father, someone whose child died in the Iraq War: “standing up for the truth honors all who gave all.”
She said members of Congress should strive to honor and represent those who have given all for American freedom.
In recent months, those ranks have been included not only soldiers but the U.S. Capitol Police officers who died defending the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection. Cheney said lawmakers took an oath to defend these ideas.
“Ultimately, Mr. Speaker, this is at the heart of what our oath requires: that we love our country more,” Cheney said. “That we love her so much that we will stand above politics to defend her. That we will do everything in our power to protect our Constitution and our freedom that has been paid for by the blood of so many. We must love America so much that we will never yield in her defense. That is our duty.”
Later Wednesday, as members of the House gathered for an oversight hearing on the Capitol riot, the public got yet another glimpse of some of the divisive language to which Cheney had referred in her floor speech Tuesday.
Although much of the footage of the insurrection came from the very rioters leading it — proudly recording their efforts to stop lawmakers from certifying the count of electors — Arizona Republican Paul Gosar accused the Department of Justice on Wednesday of “harassing peaceful patriots across the country.”
More than 400 individuals are being prosecuted with invading the Capitol, but Gosar, who had been among the first Republicans to object to the count on Jan. 6, insisted that the truth had been “covered up.”
Gosar prodded one of the witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing, former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, for information about whether Capitol rioters had been found to have weapons on their person after their arrest. He also inquired if Ashley Babbitt, the former Air Force veteran whom Capitol Police shot and killed as she tried to breach a secure portion of the Capitol, was armed.
The congressman described Babbit’s killing as an execution, though the Justice Department closed its investigation into her death a month ago, citing no evidence that the officer who shot Babbit broke the law.
Many other Republicans tried Wednesday to downplay the Jan. 6 insurrection led by pro-Trump extremists. Congressman Glenn Grothman, a Wisconsin Republican, described protesters who occupied the building for more than four hours as “milling around.” Another, Georgia Republican Andrew Clyde, said to call the attack an insurrection was a “bold-faced lie.”
Cheney joined a handful of House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump the second time for his actions surrounding the Capitol riot. At the time, the GOP still voted to keep her in her leadership role. Since then, though, McCarthy, Scalise and Trump have all endorsed Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York to replace Cheney as head of the Republican Conference.