A defiant Cheney ousted by House Republicans for Trump criticism

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. House of Representatives Republicans on Wednesday voted to remove Liz Cheney from their leadership, punishing her for criticizing former President Donald Trump’s false claims that last year’s election was stolen from him through election fraud.

After her ouster as the No. 3 House Republican was carried out in minutes in a closed-door meeting, a defiant Cheney said it is impossible to “embrace the big lie and embrace the Constitution” and that she would lead the fight to bring her party back to “fundamental principles of conservatism.”

She also vowed to prevent Trump from ever regaining the presidency, telling reporters: “I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office.”

The Wyoming here congresswoman, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, was one of ten House Republicans who voted in January to impeach Trump on a charge of inciting insurrection. Senate Republicans provided the votes in the following month to prevent Trump from being barred from holding future public office.

The vote indicated that Trump had solidified his hold over House Republicans. During Trump’s time as president, Republicans lost their majorities in the House and Senate and he lost the White House. Still, he is publicly flirting with another run for the presidency in 2024.

Trump’s January impeachment – his second – focused on an incendiary Jan. 6 speech in which he urged his followers to “fight” his election defeat, which he claimed falsely was the result of widespread fraud. A pro-Trump mob then stormed the U.S. Capitol building, an attack that left five dead.

Cheney rejected House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy’s contention that Republicans must refrain from criticizing Trump to win back congressional majorities in the 2022 mid-term elections.

“We have seen the danger that he continues to provoke with his language,” Cheney said of Trump.

Cheney ended her brief remarks to reporters without spelling out whether she will remain in the House and run for re-election next year or take another path.

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It was not yet clear when House Republicans will choose a replacement for Cheney in the position of party conference chair, who helps develop Republican positions on legislation and assists rank-and-file members on an array of issues.

Trump and McCarthy have touted Representative Elise Stefanik here as the next conference head. But she has drawn criticism from some Republicans for a voting record that they portray as being out of step with conservatives.

Cheney’s critics said her criticism of Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election distracted from party messaging about Democrats and President Joe Biden’s agenda. House Republicans held a secret ballot to oust her from the leadership.

Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of the few House Republicans publicly defending Cheney, said in a tweet, “I believe our open lies are an absolute abdication of our duty, and it is shameful.” Kinzinger was referring to the false claims made by Trump and echoed by others in the party that there was widespread voting fraud in the November election in which Biden defeated Trump, who has claimed that he actually won.

Cheney, who boasts sterling conservative credentials, has run afoul of McCarthy and others in her caucus by repeatedly denouncing Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election and insisting that the Republican Party be the “party of truth.”

Most Republican lawmakers, including McCarthy, have sought to placate Trump, whose claims of election fraud were rejected in multiple courts as well as by state and federal election officials.

“It’s clear that we need to make a change,” McCarthy told his fellow Republicans in a letter announcing Wednesday’s vote. “These internal conflicts need to be resolved, so as to not detract from the efforts of our collective team.”

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But the show of fealty to the former president has already opened House Republicans to claims that they are punishing a truth-teller in a move that could alienate swing voters whom Republicans will need to achieve their election goals.

The move against Cheney also stands in contrast to McCarthy’s decision not to act against Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz. The House’s Democratic leadership stripped Greene of her committee assignments for past incendiary remarks that included support for violence against Democrats, while Gaetz is the subject of a federal child sex-trafficking probe.

Cheney’s departure and Trump’s continued false election claims could further deepen divisions within the party, according to some Republicans.

Trump was impeached by the House twice, presided over the Republican loss of the House, the Senate and the White House, and has been accused of inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot that left five people dead including a police officer.

Cheney now faces an uphill battle for re-election in her home state of Wyoming, where Trump is revered.

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