When Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) voted to impeach President Donald Trump on Jan. 13 for inciting a riot that tore through the U.S. Capitol, it seemed the door had been cracked ever so slightly for the unthinkable—the loosening of Trump’s vise-grip on the Republican Party.
Three weeks later, it’s clear that the opening was a mirage, and that Cheney’s vote could carry even greater consequences than previously thought, but not for the former president.
On Wednesday, House Republicans will gather for their first-all member meeting of the new legislative session. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)—who said after the Capitol riot that Trump bore some responsibility for it—backtracked, and returned fully to the MAGA fold by visiting the ex-president at Mar-a-Lago on Thursday. There, he proclaimed Trump his top ally in winning back the House majority in 2022.
It’s likely, then, that the first topic of the House GOP confab will be Cheney—an “airing of grievances,” as one aide put it—and a debate over whether she should remain in her post as third-ranking member of the House GOP leadership after her vote to impeach Trump.
A pro-Trump faction, led by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and others, has pushed a petition to force a vote on removing Cheney from party leadership, which would require the support of two-thirds of the 211-member Republican conference. That vote is unlikely to happen Wednesday, as the petition has not formally been filed.
But Cheney is nevertheless girding for a fight. Her team has reached out to GOP lawmakers to temperature-check and firm up support, and several Republican sources expect her to have a stable of allies lined up to speak in her defense during the party-wide meeting.
Even if a vote does occur at some point, and even if there is real anger in the conference about Cheney, most insiders are doubtful that 140 of them will move to oust her—especially from the confines of a secret ballot. Many privately respect her for taking tough stances. Former Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-VA), who served with Cheney before leaving office in January, put it more candidly.
“Liz Cheney,” said Riggleman, “has bigger balls than anyone in that conference.”
The reckoning over Cheney’s fate, however, is also a stand-in for the House GOP’s broader reckoning over its relationship with Trump. And what rankles many Cheney allies most about the situation is McCarthy’s simultaneous handling of a figure who may represent the future of the movement Trump started: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).
In the last week, Greene, already a known QAnon sympathizer and conspiracy theorist, was revealed to have endorsed the killing of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), suggested that the Newtown, Parkland, and Las Vegas mass shootings were “false flags,” and blamed California wildfires on a Jewish-controlled space laser. Amid clamoring for Greene’s removal from committees—not only from Democrats but from groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition—McCarthy has pledged to have a “conversation” with Greene about her remarks.
“I don’t think any outside observers are taking us seriously as a governing party moving forward,” lamented one House Republican aide, one of four who spoke anonymously to The Daily Beast to describe dynamics candidly. “We’re going to have a ‘conversation’ about Marjorie Taylor Greene, and then vote to remove the top female leader of the party?”
Doug Heye, a GOP strategist and former top aide to former Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), said that this week, the party has a choice before it. “Whether or not it wants to be the party of Liz Cheney,” said Heye, “or the party of Marjorie Taylor Greene?”
There is a sense in House GOP circles that most parties involved would prefer to punt on that question—or at least on the narrower question of whether to punish Cheney, who is seen by supporters as a possible future leader of the House GOP. McCarthy himself has been evasive, saying on Jan. 23 that he supports his lieutenant but also “has concerns” about her. Cheney’s office declined to comment in response to questions from The Daily Beast.
Meanwhile, the ringleaders of the effort to oust Cheney—namely Jordan, along with House Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ)—are the same characters who made previous party leaders’ lives miserable, including Cheney’s, as Jordan tried to oust her already last year.
“It’s not a new hobby for Jim Jordan and his friends to try to stir up shit within leadership with the threat of bouncing somebody,” said Brendan Buck, a former top aide to former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), a leader who was hardly well-liked by the party’s far-right flank. “We’ve heard this kind of thing before.”
Many in the conference feel that these instigators want to fight just for fighting’s sake, less interested in actually removing Cheney than in earning chits with the MAGA base as Trump’s truest remaining defenders in a squishy GOP. “It’s a show for people who want it to be a show,” said one GOP aide.
Leaders of the anti-Cheney push have told Capitol Hill press that they have well over a hundred supporters, but those supporters haven’t been named. Jordan’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on the state of the effort and his involvement in it.
Many observers believe that there are plenty of GOP lawmakers who will agitate for a vote in order to look sufficiently pro-Trump, but will back down and support Cheney when the time comes. “I do think there is a chance she could be ousted, but I think her position is stronger than most people assume,” said former Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), a Trump-critical Republican who was defeated in 2018.
“I’m confident that even people who have gone on record requesting this meeting and a vote, some of those people are going to end up voting to leave her in her position,” said Curbelo.
For many members in the middle between the most stridently pro-Cheney and anti-Cheney camps, there is “real, legitimate anger” in the rank-and-file, said another House GOP aide, who expected that far from two-thirds want to remove her, but that plenty will speak up against her at Wednesday’s meeting.
That anger, the aide says, centers less on Cheney’s actual vote and more on how she rolled it out: in a blistering statement released the night before the vote. Cheney allies argue that she had an obligation to issue her statement well in advance—both to give cover for those in the conference who might have been mulling a vote to impeach, and to make clear to her constituents in Wyoming where she stood. “It would have been easier for her to stay quiet,” said Curbelo.
Ultimately, Cheney herself never spoke from the House floor during the debate, but Democrats cribbed her words constantly as they sought to make the case against Trump—and his GOP allies—on TV, in committee, and on the House floor. “You’re given resources to protect members, and you did the opposite,” said the GOP aide. “That’s where the anger lies.”
That’s not to say that the meeting will simply be a Cheney hate-fest, however. Several GOP sources said that there’s pointed anger directed at McCarthy not only for his muted response to Greene’s disturbing comments, but for his unwillingness to stop her when he had the chance, before her primary last June. “There’s a lot of member anger there, that this could have been stopped had he decided to get involved,” said a GOP aide.
Trump, at the very least, is standing with McCarthy, which remains the most important thing in today’s Republican Party. And he’s making clear he wants Cheney gone.
In recent days, the message from the former president, his advisers, and his MAGA diehards still on Capitol Hill was clear: Liz Cheney’s career implosion is a top, vital priority. People close to Trump say he views Cheney’s immediate fortunes as one of the first tests of his lasting influence on the party and conservative movement.
But due to Twitter’s banning of the @realDonaldTrump account following the Capitol riot that Trump instigated, he has not been able to personally trash Cheney via his once widely read tweets. He has written out insults and observations, several of them about Cheney, but with no ability to tweet them himself, he has resorted to suggesting put-downs for others to use or post to their own Twitter, according to a person with direct knowledge of this new habit.
In conversations in recent days, Trump has grumbled about Cheney being “totally phony,” someone who did whatever she could to embrace him when it was politically convenient, but then moved to bury him following the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, according to two people familiar with his private remarks. Indeed, it wasn’t long ago when Cheney was willing to get into a public feud with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) over which of them was the better Trump supporter on matters of foreign policy and the “America First” agenda.
Around Mar-a-Lago, Trump has marveled about how she “has no friends” anymore, given that liberals don’t like her and that she’s antagonized much of the Trumpist right by “siding” with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic lawmakers on impeachment. The former president has made clear to key allies that they can’t let her “get away with” this and that he wants to tank her political future, and has delighted in a new poll showing 73 percent of GOP voters in Wyoming now have an unfavorable opinion of her, following her vote for Trump’s second impeachment. The polling was done for Save American PAC and senior Trump adviser Jason Miller, and conducted by one of Trump’s top 2016 and 2020 campaign pollsters, John McLaughlin.
Asked by The Daily Beast for comment on Cheney, Miller claimed the congresswoman no longer had any “political pulse,” adding, “It is notable that the Cheney camp hasn’t put out any numbers to refute what was found in the McLaughlin polling.”
While those sympathetic to Cheney believe she will ward off challenges to her leadership—and her congressional seat—there will be long-term repercussions for the ambitious Republican for her stand against Trump, a reality that has become even clearer in recent days.
“It was firmly Trump's House before January 6, and it’s firmly Trump’s House after,” said Buck, the former Ryan aide. “Whatever evolution the conference takes to define itself is going to be a very slow one. It’ll continue to be the best party politics to be firmly pro-Trump and not give an inch on that.”