Rep. Liz Cheney is out to prove to House Republicans that the party can make a break from former President Donald Trump and his “stolen election” claims without sacrificing their political careers.
As a result, lawmakers predict her days as House conference chair are numbered, and chatter about possible replacements is on the rise.
Ms. Cheney’s high-stakes gamble appears to be coming to a head after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Trump ally, was caught Tuesday in a hot-mic moment saying she has “real problems” and that he’s “had it with her.”
“Well, someone just has to bring a motion, but I assume that will probably take place,” Mr. McCarthy told “Fox & Friends” host Steve Doocy.
First reported by Axios, the remarks, the audio of which surfaced on social media, offered an unvarnished glimpse into Mr. McCarthy’s thinking.
Mr. McCarthy was more subtle in the televised portion of the interview.
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He said he “heard from members concerned about her ability to carry out the job as conference chair — to carry out the message.”
“We all need to be working as one if we are able to win the majority” in the 2022 midterm elections, he said.
He insisted that the rising anti-Cheney sentiment has nothing to do with her vote to impeach Mr. Trump on a charge of inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
In response to the comments, Cheney spokesman Jeremy Adler said, “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,” Mr. Adler said. “That is the issue.”
Mr. McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
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Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York has been mentioned as a favorite to replace Ms. Cheney if she gets booted.
The names of Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, chair of the Republican Study Committee, and Mike Johnson of Louisiana also have been batted about.
Mr. Trump’s shadow has loomed over the Republican Party since he won 74 million votes in his failed reelection bid against Joseph R. Biden.
Mr. Trump helped Ronna McDaniel return as chair of the Republican National Committee and assumed the role of kingmaker in the midterm elections, throwing his support behind candidates across the country.
Republicans running in primary races are singing his praises and are eager to stay on his good side.
The list includes Mr. McCarthy as well as the Republicans who are lining up to challenge Ms. Cheney in the primary next year.
Mr. McCarthy is betting his odds of becoming the next speaker of the House are better with Mr. Trump and his avid supporters in his corner.
Still, there are deep divisions over the extent to which Republicans should embrace Mr. Trump after losing the White House and both chambers of Congress on his watch.
For his part, Mr. Trump is out for revenge.
He is targeting Ms. Cheney and the nine other House Republicans who backed his impeachment and has been lashing out against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other Republican lawmakers who denied his accusations of a stolen election.
“Heartwarming to read new polls on big-shot warmonger Liz Cheney of the great state of Wyoming,” Mr. Trump said in a statement this week. “She is so low that her only chance would be if vast numbers of people run against her which, hopefully, won’t happen.
“They never liked her much, but I say she’ll never run in a Wyoming election again!” he said.
Ms. Cheney has been censured by her state party and has drawn primary challengers who accuse her of betraying Wyoming voters. They describe her impeachment vote as “disgraceful.”
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, is sticking with his claims of a stolen election.
“The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!” he said this week.
Ms. Cheney countered soon afterward: “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,” she said on her Twitter page, which features the banner: “The World Needs More Cowboys.”
Ms. Cheney reportedly hammered home the point later in the day at an event with former House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.
“We can’t embrace the notion the election is stolen. It’s a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy,” she said, according to CNN, at a closed-door conference with Mr. Ryan in Sea Island, Georgia. “We can’t whitewash what happened on Jan. 6 or perpetuate Trump’s big lie. It is a threat to democracy. What he did on Jan. 6 is a line that cannot be crossed.”
Ms. Cheney’s criticism of Mr. Trump triggered a rebellion inside the Republican Party earlier this year, with rank-and-file members calling for her scalp.
Ms. Cheney easily survived that 145-61 vote to remain in her leadership job after Mr. McCarthy vouched for her behind closed doors.
Mr. McCarthy started to change his tune at the recent Republican retreat in Orlando, Florida.
Ms. Cheney scored a series of headlines for reiterating her criticism of Mr. Trump and saying Republicans who led the challenge to the election results should not run for president in 2024.
She also split with Mr. McCarthy on a proposal to create a 9/11-style commission to investigate the attack on the Capitol. Ms. Cheney wants the investigation to focus squarely on events leading up to the riot. Mr. McCarthy wants it to focus more broadly on political violence across the nation, including events involving Antifa and Black Lives Matter.
Ms. Cheney’s unapologetic stance has won her both cheers and jeers from the caucus.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who launched an anti-Trump political action committee this year, praised Ms. Cheney for being a leader.
“She stands for truth-telling and integrity, and she isn’t afraid to stand for what matters,” said Kinzinger spokeswoman Maura Gillespie. “On Nov. 3, 2020, Joe Biden was elected president of the United States. On Jan. 6th, 2021, our democracy was attacked by an angry mob who had been fed lies and conspiracies about a stolen election.
“These are the facts, and it’s important that leaders take responsibility in sharing that truth,” she said. “The congressman and others who value honesty and integrity remain committed to doing so, and will continue to fight for the soul of the GOP, no matter how long it takes.”
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who also has felt the wrath of Mr. Trump since backing impeachment, praised Ms. Cheney as a “person of conscience.”
“Every person of conscience draws a line beyond which they will not go: Liz Cheney refuses to lie,” Mr. Romney wrote.
House Democrats also have weighed in.
“Word is out that House GOP leaders are looking to push Rep. Liz Cheney from her post as House Republican Conference chair — their most senior woman in GOP leadership — for a litany of very Republican reasons: She won’t lie, she isn’t humble enough, she’s like a girlfriend rooting for the wrong team, and more,” the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said in a newsroom post.
“So what exactly are House GOP leaders looking for in a #3?” Mrs. Pelosi’s office said. “They want a woman who isn’t a ‘threat’ to them.”