The reasons for ousting the Wyoming lawmaker from her role as head of the GOP Conference had a basis in political reality: Cheney had not only voted to impeach former President Donald Trump but continued to criticize him for spreading the lie that the election had been stolen from him. That not only broke Ronald Reagan’s rule – thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican – but was just too much for GOPers who believe their leaders, at least, should be of one mind and mission.
But the effort to remove Cheney comes with its political baggage as well. She was the only woman in Republican House leadership after the party boasted a record number of women elected to the House in 2020. It exposed an unhelpful division within the Republican ranks at a time when the minority party needs to stay united to thwart the Biden agenda.
And her dismissal merely made her a more defiant foe of Trump, as Cheney vowed to keep up her anti-Trump remarks even as fellow Republicans continue to court Trump’s approval and rely on his fundraising ability.
“I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again goes anywhere near the Oval Office,” Cheney told reporters after her behind-closed-doors but still very public firing Wednesday morning. “We have seen the danger that he continues to provoke with his language. We’ve seen his lack of commitment and dedication to the Constitution.”
Trump responded with a nasty retort – exactly the sort of rhetoric many Republicans were relieved to see muted after Trump left office (and got suspended from Twitter and Facebook).
“Liz Cheney is a bitter, horrible human being,” Trump said in a statement after the expected vote “She has no personality or anything good having to do with politics or our Country.”
The vote was a win for Trump and his followers, ensuring that the defeated president is still very much in control of the party. That could be helpful to Republicans, who are well positioned to take back the House majority in 2022, especially as Democratic retirements and redistricting favor the GOP.
But it complicates matters, too, for a party seeking to define itself beyond the personage of Trump. Social conservatives who are more committed to a policy agenda than to Trump personally wondered how the move would affect the mission of the party.
GOP leaders, “along with others will vote to silence Liz Cheney and elevate a non-conservative,” Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of the social conservative group The Family Leader, tweeted Wednesday morning. He was referring to an anticipated elevation of New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik – someone with a far more moderate voting record – to the job. “My hunch is she’s not going to be silent and this CancelCulture vote will only amplify her voice and give her a much bigger platform.”
For House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican eager to be called Mr. Speaker in two years, the timing was awkward. Almost immediately after the morning vote to push out, McCarthy traveled down Pennsylvania Avenue for a meeting with Biden on the president’s $2.2 trillion infrastructure plan.
Biden himself has had some recent bad news that helps McCarthy distract news from his party’s civil war: On the heels of a disappointing April jobs report, the government reported a 4.2% inflation rate. Further, following a cyberattack, America launched a panic-buying of gasoline resulting in long lines and empty gas pumps reminiscent of the Jimmy Carter years.
But the political fallout from those troubling developments has yet to damage Biden, who enjoys personal high approval ratings as well as strong public support for the two massive spending bills he wants Congress to pass.
Nor has Biden sought to exploit the GOP’s internal feuds, instead going about his business as president as though the House Republican drama were a domestic dispute in an unrelated family thousands of miles away.
Masked along with other participants at Biden’s first meeting with the “big four” – McCarthy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell – McCarthy’s facial expressions could not be read when the White House invited reporters to view the beginning of the meeting.
And when he emerged, McCarthy was not remotely combative.
“I thought the meeting today was productive,” the California Republican said.
He and McConnell talked about terms of an agreement – neither wants to undo the 2017 tax cut, and they want to more strictly define the meaning of the word “infrastructure” for government projects – but neither suggested they were unwilling to deal. That’s a substantial shift from Capitol Hill-White House talks during the Trump years.
The gas lines make for bad optics at the moment but the situation “will resolve itself” as people stop hoarding it in the way they scooped up toilet paper at the start of the pandemic, says Joel Naroff, a strategic economic adviser and president of Econsult Solutions.
With solid approval ratings – for the moment – and the knowledge that he might have just two years to get anything big done, “He’s going to try to do everything he absolutely, positively can do,” Naroff says.
Biden, too, appears confident he can get a compromise with the GOP. “Easy. Just snap my fingers it’ll happen,” Biden quipped, responding to a question of how he could get a deal.
With the GOP still arguing over an out-of-office president, that task is easier.
Tags: Liz Cheney, Republican Party, Congress, Donald Trump.