House GOP’s McCarthy Sets Cheney Ouster Vote for Wednesday

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told GOP colleagues to anticipate a vote Wednesday on whether to oust Representative Liz Cheney, a strong critic of former President Donald Trump, as their third-ranking party leader.

“Having heard from so many of you in recent days, it’s clear that we need to make a change,” McCarthy wrote in a letter to rank-and-file Republicans on Monday.

McCarthy and second-ranking House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana have already both publicly backed Representative Elise Stefanik of New York to replace Cheney, who holds Wyoming’s sole congressional seat, as chair of the House Republican Conference.

There is no mention in McCarthy’s letter of when a vote may be held to pick a successor if GOP lawmakers agree to remove Cheney.

A Cheney spokesman did not immediately respond when asked about the letter.

Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa defended Cheney.

“I feel it’s O.K. to go ahead and express what you feel is right to express,” she said. “You know, cancel culture is cancel culture, no matter how you look at it. And unfortunately I think there are those who are trying to silence others in the party.”

And Senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, said on Twitter that stripping her of her leadership post wouldn’t gain the party any voters, but could cost them “quite a few.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, asked if there was room in the GOP ranks for an opponent of the former president, said, “Sure, you’re just not going to be a leader in the party if you’re anti-Trump.”

Cheney is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney. She was among 10 Republicans who voted earlier this year with Democrats to impeach Trump leading to his second Senate trial -- she did not vote to impeach Trump the first time. She has been an outspoken critic of Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and his repeated false claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Even before the election, Cheney was critical of Trump on other topics, most significantly foreign policy.

Stefanik, who has been lobbying Republican colleagues to support her for Cheney’s job, is seen as having evolved into a staunch Trump loyalist, beginning with her emphatic defense of him during the first House impeachment hearings.

McCarthy describes the GOP in his letter as “a big tent party” even as he announced the vote on removing Cheney from her leadership post.

He wrote, “All members are elected to represent their constituents as they see fit, but our leadership team cannot afford to be distracted from the important work we were elected to do and the shared goals we hope to achieve.”

“The stakes are too high to come up short. I trust you agree,” he added.

Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who also voted to impeach Trump, said Cheney is being removed from leadership because she has been consistent about the election not being stolen and the role that lie played in the insurrection.

“I was very disappointed when my party’s leaders, Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise in particular, decided that winning the next election and winning the majority was more important than a clear-eyed recognition of what happened on Jan. 6,” Kinzinger said at National Press Club virtual forum on Monday.

Kinzinger predicted that if the GOP continues to move toward Trump, whom he called a “paper tiger,” that could threaten the Republican Party’s chances to retake control of the House in the 2022 midterms and even its existence.

“It’ll either return to its roots or die,” he said. “You cannot unite with lies.”

The internal battle leading to what will be the second GOP conference vote on ousting Cheney underscores deep internal divisions over whether the Republican Party should continue to defend Trump’s actions given his continued support among many GOP voters, or seek to loosen its embrace of the former president.

Cheney survived a similar conference vote on Feb. 3 pushed by angry Trump loyalists and conservatives, but at that time she still had McCarthy’s public backing.

Graham, who played golf with Trump over the weekend, said Cheney was “entitled to her opinion,” but added: “I think it would be a disaster for the Republican Party if we just didn’t acknowledge the fact that Donald Trump’s the most popular person in the party. The American First agenda is well-respected. If you tried to run him out of the party, he’d take half the party with him.”

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