Republicans vote to oust Trump critic Liz Cheney from party leadership

Republicans vote to oust Trump critic Liz Cheney from party leadership
Cheney warned her colleagues of the potential 'unravelling of our democracy' as Trump continues to 'mislead' millions of Americans.
4 min read
Cheney speaks to reporters after being ousted from Republican leadership [Getty]

House Republicans voted Wednesday to oust conservative Liz Cheney, a fierce critic of Donald Trump, her powerful leadership role in a move that solidifies the former US president's grip on the party.

Eighteen months before crucial midterms and three years before the next presidential race, the Republican Party punished one of its own for refusing to embrace Donald Trump's false claim that Democrats stole the 2020 election.

Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, was removed from her role as the number three House Republican in a closed-door vote by the party's conference.

There were no speeches or fanfare, lawmakers said. In a lightning-fast voice vote, Cheney's Republican colleagues offered her up as the latest political sacrifice in the party's alignment with Trump. 

Afterwards, the Wyoming lawmaker told reporters she did not feel betrayed but insisted she would continue to fight for conservative principles and against the embrace of a one-term leader who continues to spread baseless voter fraud falsehoods.

"We cannot be dragged backwards by the very dangerous lies of the former president," Cheney said.

"I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office," she added.

"We must go forward based on truth. We cannot both embrace the big lie and embrace the Constitution."

Republicans argue that it is about unity, and that Cheney's relentless criticism of Trump has done nothing to bring a fractured party together following a contentious election that left them in the political hinterland.

But House Republican Adam Kinzinger who, like Cheney, voted to impeach Trump for inciting the deadly US Capitol insurrection on January 6, scoffed at the notion that unity - and not bowing to Trump's voter base - was the driving force behind Cheney's forced martyrdom.

"I'm all for unity and truth, you know? But truth cannot coexist with lies," Kinzinger said. "You cannot unify with that."

On Tuesday Cheney delivered a defiant speech on the House floor, warning her colleagues of the potential "unravelling of our democracy" as Trump continues to mislead millions of Americans and sow doubt about election integrity.

"Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar," Cheney told the nearly empty chamber. 

Trump, who has largely remained in his private Mar-a-Lago club since leaving the White House in January, clapped back in typically abrasive fashion.

"Liz Cheney is a bitter, horrible human being," he said in a statement shortly after her ouster.

"She has no personality or anything good having to do with politics or our Country."

Trump, top House Republican Kevin McCarthy and number two Steve Scalise have all endorsed a young moderate-turned-Trumpist, Elise Stefanik, as Cheney's replacement.

Stefanik does not yet have serious competition for the post, and the endorsements make her the clear frontrunner. 

But a vote for a new conference chair is not yet set, as some Republicans worry that Stefanik - while a fierce Trump defender - is insufficiently conservative.

Regardless of Cheney's replacement, "it's clear that we need to make a change," McCarthy told members Monday.

"Each day spent relitigating the past is one day less we have to seize the future."

While Cheney, Kinzinger and a handful of other Republicans warn against clinging to the former president, many in the party, including Senator Lindsey Graham, believe it cannot move forward without Trumpism, whether Trump himself remains a force or not.

Cheney has been a "solid conservative" in Congress, Graham said after the vote, but "in my view, she has taken a position regarding former President Trump which is out of the mainstream of the Republican Party."

We must go forward based on truth. We cannot both embrace the big lie and embrace the Constitution.

Many Republicans lost confidence in Cheney because of what they saw as unhelpful attacks and finger-wagging at Trump.

In the end, while she remains a member of Congress, "she just became (too) much of a distraction," fellow House Republican Byron Donalds told reporters.

With Republican divisions front and centre, President Joe Biden was courting bipartisanship Wednesday by hosting his first White House meeting with the four congressional leaders: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Republicans McCarthy and Senator Mitch McConnell.

The huddle may serve as a reminder that in the midst of a purge of a congressional leader, Washington's gears continue churning.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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