WASHINGTON — In the hours before facing a vote that will almost certainly purge her from House Republican leadership, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming remained unrepentant Tuesday, framing her expulsion as a turning point for her party and declaring in an extraordinary speech that she would not sit quietly by as Republicans abandoned the rule of law.
Delivering the broadside from the House floor Tuesday night, Cheney took a fiery last stand, warning that former President Donald Trump had created a threat that the nation had never seen before: a president who had “provoked a violent attack” on his own Capitol “in an effort to steal the election,” and then continued to spread his election lies.
“Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar,” Cheney said. “I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”
Her defiant exit — and unmistakable jab at the House Republican leaders working to oust her — illustrates Cheney’s determination to continue her blunt condemnation of Trump and her party’s role in spreading the false election claims that inspired the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. On the precipice of the vote to remove her Wednesday, she has embraced her downfall rather than fight it, offering herself as a cautionary tale in what she is portraying as a battle for the soul of the Republican Party.
Emphasizing that framing, Cheney wore a replica pin of George Washington’s battle flag Tuesday night as she spoke on the House floor.
“I think Liz understands it’s not worth selling your soul for No. 3 in the minority,” said Barbara Comstock, a former Republican congresswoman from Virginia and a friend of Cheney’s. “She’s just not going to do that.”
Cheney’s remorseless last stand — and the chilly reception it received from House Republicans, who cleared from the chamber as she began her remarks — also highlighted how Republican leaders, even in their eagerness to rebuild their party after the riot and Trump’s stormy departure from the White House, have tethered themselves to his election lies as a matter of survival.
As a replacement, leaders have united behind Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, a onetime moderate whose fealty to Trump and backing for his false narrative of a stolen election have earned her broad support from the party’s rank-and-file that Cheney, as a lifelong conservative, no longer commands. It is a remarkable arc for the daughter of a conservative dynasty who was once spoken of as a future speaker and now stands on the cusp of being relegated to the political wilderness.
Cheney’s allies say she views the ouster as part of an existential battle and intends to keep up her criticism even from exile in the rank and file. The short-term political consequences will almost surely work against her, both in Washington and at home.
Cheney is under attack in Wyoming, where conservatives who have sought to exploit her antagonism of Trump are hoping to unseat her in a primary. And any presidential aspirations she may have nursed appear certain to be delayed — if not dashed — given her decision to take on a figure whom the Republican base reveres.
The drama that unfolded Tuesday before the vote underscored the iron grip Trump still has on the party, as hard-right Republicans began to publicly argue that Stefanik was not sufficiently conservative nor supportive enough of the former president to lead the conference.
In a memo circulated by Rep. Chip Roy of Texas that was reported by Politico, he tore into Stefanik and accused the Republican leaders who have championed her of “rushing to coronate a spokesperson whose voting record embodies much of what led” to Republicans’ drubbing in the 2018 midterm elections.
He also denounced Cheney for “unhelpfully engaging in personal attacks and finger-wagging towards President Trump rather than leading the conference forward.” Roy’s letter reflected a determination among conservatives, who led the first, unsuccessful effort to oust Cheney in February, to exert their will on the party’s message.
Even outspoken allies of Cheney earlier this year appeared ready to abandon her. Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, a fellow defense hawk, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he planned to vote to oust Cheney from leadership. In backing Cheney in February, Gallagher had warned that “we must be a big tent party or else condemn ourselves to irrelevance.”
But on Tuesday, Gallagher said in a statement: “House Democrats under Speaker Pelosi have been ruthless in advancing their radical progressive agenda, and Rep. Cheney can no longer unify the House Republican conference in opposition to that agenda.”
Instead, Cheney found a set of unlikely allies rallying to her side: Democratic leaders.
“Liz Cheney spoke truth to power, and for that she is being fired,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, chimed in to say he found it “sad” to watch Republican leaders pledge fealty to “such a dysfunctional leader as Donald Trump.”
Similar praise from Democrats had infuriated Republicans in January, after Cheney released a lengthy, unsparing statement announcing that she would vote to impeach Trump. Democrats quoted liberally from it on the House floor, to the dismay and embarrassment of Republicans, some of whom felt that the Wyoming Republican was grandstanding to further her political ambitions.
Cheney’s detractors have accused her of continuing to do so.
“I think she made a calculated decision that she would rather be a martyr than try to accommodate her own conference,” Newt Gingrich, a former Republican speaker, told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo this week. “She has every right as an individual member to say and do what she wants to. But she has no right as the chair of the conference to take the power and the prestige that the conference has given her and use it to undermine the conference.”
Cheney, however, has repeatedly warned that trying to avoid talking about the riot and Trump’s false election claims will not only further alienate would-be Republican voters but also cause “profound long-term damage” to the country. A former State Department official, she has invoked the parallels between what unfolded Jan. 6 and her work in authoritarian countries to explain why she was so determined to publicly condemn the attempted insurrection.
“History is watching. Our children are watching,” Cheney wrote in a scathing Washington Post op-ed article last week. “We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be.”