House Conference Chair Liz Cheney is the most prominent House Republican who’s refused to accept former President Trump’s election lies—and it could cost her her leadership post.
On Tuesday morning, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy publicly questioned whether Cheney was up to the job, a clear signal that he won’t help her fend off a right-wing attempt to kick her out of leadership for slamming the lie that the election was stolen from Trump.
“I have heard from members concerned about her ability to carry out the job as conference chair, to carry out the message,” McCarthy said on Fox News, suggesting members want a leader who can help them “all work together instead of attacking one another.”
McCarthy’s criticism comes after the latest flare-up between Cheney and Trump, and as Trump loyalists within the House Republican conference have renewed calls to oust Cheney from her position in the House GOP’s third-most-powerful slot because she won’t stay silent.
Cheney was one of just 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting his followers to attack the U.S. Capitol on January 6. That alone was enough to trigger a right-wing challenge against her leadership. But that effort went down in flames in early February when the GOP House Conference voted 145-61 on a secret ballot vote to keep her in her leadership role. That vote came after McCarthy gave a speech defending Cheney and calling for unity.
Cheney has refused to back down from Trump since then, calling out his false conspiracy theories about the 2020 election as “poisonous” to our democracy.
That’s an accurate and politically brave position—but an unpopular one with Republicans. Polls show that roughly two-thirds of GOP voters have bought into Trump’s election lie, and Republican lawmakers have seemingly grown more frustrated every time Cheney slams it.
Cheney's office made clear she wasn't swayed by McCarthy's warning. “This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on Jan 6. Liz will not do that. That is the issue," Cheney spokesman Jeremy Adler told VICE News in a statement.
McCarthy prefers to lead from behind—his leadership style is taking the temperature of his entire conference and doing whatever the majority wants to do. So it’s notable that while he defended Cheney in February, he now seems ready to throw her to the wolves for her ongoing criticism of Trump—and it’s a sign that she might be in serious trouble.
The latest escalation came Monday.
“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,” Cheney tweeted, shortly after Trump put out a statement declaring “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!”
She doubled down behind closed doors.
"We can't whitewash what happened on January 6 or perpetuate Trump's big lie. It is a threat to democracy. What he did on January 6 is a line that cannot be crossed,” Cheney said at a closed-door conference hosted by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, according to CNN.
McCarthy’s comments come a week after he refused to defend her position in GOP leadership at the GOP’s annual retreat, while offering veiled criticism of her views.
Cheney is facing a Trump-backed primary challenge back home in Wyoming as well.
It’s unclear how much danger Cheney is truly in. Two-thirds of the House Republican conference would need to vote for her removal to kick her out of her leadership role, a high bar, and the February vote suggested there were a lot more Republicans who privately supported her position.
It’s also not clear who might step up to fill her role—Republicans know they shouldn’t remove the only female member of GOP leadership unless they’re going to replace her with another woman, and it’s not yet clear who that might be, though more than a half-dozen names have been floated.
But what’s clear is that Cheney is facing a serious challenge, and it’s coming because she won’t stay quiet about Trump’s poisonous lies that the election was stolen from him.