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.
Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, voted in January to impeach Trump on a charge that he incited an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
In recent days the House No. 3 Republican Cheney said the false claims of a stolen election were “poisoning our democratic system” and that anyone who makes such a claim is “spreading THE BIG LIE.”
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 House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy have touted Representative Elise Stefanik 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 here, 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.”
In a defiant speech on the House floor on Tuesday night, Cheney again blasted Trump and his allies for the false claims about the election.
“Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar,” Cheney said.
“I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence, while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”
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.”
House Republican aides and party strategists said Cheney’s ouster could help Republicans in the short term by ensuring the party can count on Trump’s supporters at the start of the 2022 congressional election campaign, in which Republicans hope to reclaim majorities in the House and Senate.
“House members are very responsive to their base, and the Republican base continues to love Donald Trump,” Republican strategist Alex Conant said.
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, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, was among 10 House Republicans here who voted to impeach Trump for inciting insurrection in January and now faces an uphill battle for re-election in her home state of Wyoming, where Trump is revered.
But the move to oust Cheney could also prove risky for McCarthy and other top Republicans if their embrace of Trump backfires or Stefanik proves to be unpopular as her replacement.
Reporting by David Morgan and Susan Cornwell, additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham, Cynthia Osterman and Steve Orlofsky