Rep. Liz Cheney has a strong admonition for House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy: any Republican still challenging the legitimacy of the 2020 election results or whitewashing the January 6 insurrection is not fit to serve on the select committee investigating it.
“It’s very important that we have members who are committed to upholding the rule of law and members who are committed to their oaths to the Constitution,” Cheney said to CNN in her first interview since becoming the only Republican named to the select panel by Democrats. “And I would certainly hope that the minority leader will be guided by that as he makes his choices.”
While Cheney didn’t name names, that characterization of who she thinks is unqualified could apply to a wide swath of her Donald Trump-hugging colleagues in the House GOP — some of whom are in the mix to serve as one of McCarthy’s five picks for the congressional investigation into the Capitol riots. Only nine House Republicans joined Cheney in voting to impeach Trump for inciting the January 6 siege, while 139 House Republicans voted to challenge the certification of Trump’s 2020 loss.
Of course, McCarthy is unlikely to put much stock in the advice of his former deputy, after he pushed to have her booted from GOP leadership earlier this year for her repeated rebukes of the former President. Now the pair has an icy relationship and are barely on speaking terms. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s veto power over McCarthy’s picks will hold more sway.
But as Cheney embarks on her new high-stakes assignment, her comments reflect a deeply held belief that the investigation into the deadly Capitol attack needs to be as serious, sober and non-partisan as possible. And she’s vowing to call out anyone — from either party — who threatens to thwart that mission.
“I will absolutely stand for the truth and I will reject partisanship — wherever it comes in,” Cheney said. “And I think that’s been very clear from the beginning of this: my obligation is to the Constitution.”
Cheney’s self-professed dedication to the truth — not to a single person or party — is the exact same mindset that facilitated her lightning quick fall from the top ranked woman in the House GOP, as she continually rejected Trump’s falsehoods about the election. But that attitude is also what made her an appealing choice to Pelosi for the select panel, where Democrats are hoping Cheney’s presence will ensure bipartisan buy-in for their work and ultimately help sell a polarized public on their findings.
The Pelosi-picked panel of investigators knows they are up against powerful forces, with Trump and some of his acolytes now launching a campaign to rewrite the history of January 6 and twist public perceptions about that day.
“Liz Cheney is a magnificent asset to the committee because of her knowledge of national security and her commitment to the constitutional process,” said Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, one of the seven House Democrats named to the select panel. “She is not a partisan actor in any way, she really is a member of Congress searching for the truth of the events of January 6 and the causes behind them.”
Added Raskin: “It will be up to history to decide whether Liz Cheney is vindicated for her defense of our Constitution. … I’m betting on history siding with Liz Cheney.”
Bracing for political blowback
Cheney’s pivotal appointment to the committee could bring her more political headaches back home, where pro-Trump forces are already mobilizing against her. With the investigation almost certain to drag into the 2022 election year, that means Cheney’s high-profile work on the panel will likely coincide with her primary race, offering a steady stream of clips and fresh fodder for her critics.
Cheney’s challengers are already seizing on her elevation to the panel, lambasting the conservative Wyoming lawmaker for serving alongside the Democrats.
“First she goes after Trump, violates his due process with unfounded charges without a hearing, to impeach an outgoing president,” said Darin Smith, one of Cheney’s primary opponents who protested at the Capitol on January 6 and has made “election integrity” a cornerstone of his campaign. “Now she’s throwing her lot in with the Democrats?”
“I don’t think we have any place for that,” Smith added. “Law enforcement has already taken care of those folks who did wrong. … I don’t see why she’s doing it. Clearly she’s got some political motivations behind that. My best guess is that she’s going to try to run for president in 2024.”
Trump, still the most powerful figure in the Republican Party, has yet to endorse a challenger in what is shaping up to be a packed primary field in Wyoming. But the ex-President has made clear that he plans to seek revenge on the Republicans who voted to impeach him, especially Cheney.
Cheney, however, said she wasn’t thinking about the potential ramifications for her career when she agreed to join Democrats in serving on the select committee, framing the decision as far bigger than politics.
“When you have a situation that’s as dangerous as this was, and a situation where President Trump continues to use the same language, continues to make the same claims, that he knows sparked violence. …. I think we just have a duty to not make a political calculation,” Cheney said.
While it’s clear Cheney’s vote sparked a backlash among Trump loyalists in Wyoming — the state party has formally censured her — the congresswoman is still viewed by some Republicans as the clear frontrunner in the current field. Cheney was first elected to the House in 2016, after a lifetime of promoting conservative values and a hawkish foreign policy personified by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who served in her statewide seat for a decade. The congresswoman recently posted yet another record-breaking fundraising haul — $1.9 million for the second quarter of 2021 — as the race continues to garner national attention.
“The people who support her, support her on the committee; the others still believe she’s on a personal crusade against the former President,” said Wyoming GOP state Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, who is leaning toward supporting Cheney. “It really didn’t blow up anything interesting on the current battlefield.”
“When/if Trump supports a candidate, things could get interesting, if about 5 of the remaining candidates drop out, but it’s highly unlikely to happen,” added Zwonitzer.
Cheney’s approach to the panel
Cheney, who has a national security background and once held several high-level positions at the State Department, has attended both select committee meetings thus far — one in Pelosi’s office and one on Zoom. While the panel is still in the midst of getting organized and staffed up, lawmakers have started some initial planning; they may hold their first hearing as soon as next week with law enforcement officers and others who responded to the Capitol attack.
Cheney said the panel’s Democrats have been welcoming and professional, while Raskin said it “makes perfect sense” to have her on board. Cheney also said she has been “impressed” by the select committee’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson. The Mississippi Democrat helped broker a bipartisan deal for an independent commission on January 6 that was ultimately blocked by the Senate GOP. “He’s carried through in that same spirit,” Cheney said.
One key question that investigators will have to decide is whether Trump, McCarthy or others should be called to testify about Trump’s conduct and state of mind as the riots unfolded. On that topic, Cheney echoed some of her colleagues on the panel: “The investigation has to go wherever it goes, and there’s nobody who should be, or who will be, off limits if their testimony becomes necessary or is warranted.”
McCarthy, who opposed the creation of both the commission and the select committee, told Fox News on Tuesday evening that he hasn’t “made a decision yet” on who or even whether to appoint anyone from his side to the investigation, citing a “real concern” about the effort becoming politicized.
Cheney acknowledged that having a Republican on the committee could lend credibility to their work, which is why she called it a “clear decision” when Pelosi called her up and asked Cheney to join their team.
“My presence makes it bipartisan, but what is even more important to me is the way that the committee is going to conduct itself,” Cheney said. “And I’m very dedicated to operating in a way that really does reflect the gravity of this attack.”
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