WASHINGTON — A battle over the future of the Republican Party is set to play out this week as House members vote on whether to dump Rep. Liz Cheney, a critic of former President Donald Trump, from their leadership ranks.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and GOP Whip Steve Scalise have both publicly backed Rep. Elise Stefanik to replace Cheney. McCarthy made his endorsement Sunday in a Fox News interview. Stefanik tweeted her thanks.
At issue is not only the question of who is the GOP conference chair — the person responsible for getting the party’s message out to the public — but also whether Trump will remain the biggest single influence on the party’s direction.
Cheney, outspoken in her criticism of Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and repeated false claims about election fraud, has seen her support erode among rank-and-file colleagues.
Stefanik, initially a Trump-skeptic moderate from an upstate New York district, transformed into a staunch defender of the former president during his first impeachment trial and in the weeks following the 2020 election.
The contest between Cheney and Stefanik has brought to the surface other internal divisions within the party, chiefly over the role of the 45th president in setting its agenda and hand-picking candidates for 2022 and beyond.
Several Republicans voiced their concerns on Sunday.
“We have to have an internal look and a full accounting as to what led to January 6th,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Right now, it’s basically the Titanic. We’re in the middle of this slow sink, we have a band playing on the deck telling everybody it’s fine.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has been a critic of Trump for months. The move to oust Cheney distracted from the party’s attempts to create an alternative to the Biden administration, he said.
“It’s sort of a circular firing squad where we’re just attacking members of our own party,” Hogan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It bothers me you have to swear fealty to the Dear Leader or you get kicked out of the party.”
But avoiding those kinds of internal divisions is exactly what McCarthy says he’s trying to do by backing Stefanik, 36.
“Everyone in leadership serves at the pleasure of the conference,” McCarthy said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.” “We want to be united in looking forward and I think that’s what will take place.”
Cheney has clashed with many in her party after voting in favor of Trump’s impeachment in January, one of 10 House Republicans to do so.
Trump has repeatedly criticized the Wyoming lawmaker and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney since then. In a May 5 statement endorsing Stefanik, Trump called Cheney a “warmongering fool who has no place in Republican Party leadership.”
The Washington Post reported on Saturday that Trump’s team has been making calls within Wyoming to clear the field for a single challenger to Cheney in a 2022 primary.
Cheney, 54, was first elected to Wyoming’s sole congressional seat, once held by her father, in 2016. Last year she won the Republican primary with 73% of the vote, and captured 69% support in the general election. Apart from her criticism of Trump, she’s been a reliably conservative voice in Congress.
Cheney gave no sign of backing down in recent days. In an opinion essay published in The Washington Post, she said that the Republican Party is at a “turning point,” and that “embracing or ignoring Trump’s statements” about the 2020 election will do “profound, long-term damage” to the party and the country.
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