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Cheney remains defiant after ouster from GOP leadership spot as party mulls replacement

In less than 20 minutes behind closed doors, House Republicans made their allegiance to former President Donald Trump clear by ousting Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from the No. 3 position in the House GOP. Even after the vote, Cheney remained defiant in her criticism of Trump and his repeated misinformation about the 2020 election. Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor report.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We begin with a political turning point here in the U.S. It took less than 20 minutes behind closed doors for the Republicans in the House of Representatives to make their allegiance to former President Donald Trump clear.

    Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney was ousted as the number three GOP leader.

    Even after the vote was taken, she remained defiant in her criticism of Mr. Trump and his repeated false statements about the 2020 election.

  • Rep. Liz Cheney:

    We must go forward based on truth. We cannot both embrace the big lie and embrace the Constitution.

    I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office. We have seen the danger that he continues to provoke with his language. We have seen his lack of commitment and dedication to the Constitution.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we turn now to our Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor.

    Hello to both of you.

    Lisa, to you first.

    Tell us exactly what happened today, and how did the Republicans explain this decision?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Judy, Cheney spoke to her fellow Republican colleagues behind closed doors.

    And, at the end, she offered a prayer for the country and for freedom. And then something truly Shakespearian happened. Her colleagues at the end of remarks, the colleagues about to oust her from leadership, stood and gave Cheney a rousing standing ovation.

    The vote after that was very quick. It was by voice vote, instead of members having to cast ballots. That was essentially the decision of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. There were members wanting to do a recorded vote, but they did it by voice. It was just seconds.

    I spoke to a couple dozen members afterwards as they flooded out of that chamber. Clearly, they wanted this to be quick. Clearly, they wanted to get it behind them. But the truth is, there was a lot of kind of ideas and dynamics in the air.

    Those who ousted Cheney told me repeatedly that they felt she just went too far and was a distraction. Here's one of those, Dan Bishop of North Carolina.

  • Rep. Dan Bishop:

    Liz Cheney's responsibility is to lead our conference in the House of Representatives. And so she has a particular responsibility as a result of that.

    And yet it — frankly, it doesn't serve us well if he's creating and fomenting division and our ranks.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Others, though, of course, said that Cheney was right, that they — whether they agree with her or not, there was a sense from many Republicans that something dangerous happened here and that a member was booted from leadership for holding deeply held convictions and speaking her truth.

    Now, there was also a group of Republicans who didn't want to get into the right or wrong of it, but did say this is an upside-down roll for them. This is a party that's been moving to the right for years. And here it was that they booted one of their most hard-line conservatives, a woman who voted 93 percent of the time with President Trump, in favor of someone, the — the woman in waiting for this job, Elise Stefanik of New York, who has a much more moderate record.

    It really comes to tell you that this is not about public policy or philosophy. It's about brand. It's about the Trump brand. And it's about January 6, something, I must add, which is bubbling up into real action and decisions now in the politics of Congress.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so, Lisa, what is the sense about what this says about what the future holds for Liz Cheney and for House Republicans? And what does that tell us?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, Cheney isn't just going down fighting today. She is going to keep up this message.

    And a spokesman for her was texting with me, saying that she plans to keep up pushing for the Constitution, for what she believes should be Republican ideals, and against Democrats' message.

    The thing we're watching now, however, is Elise Stefanik. Nothing is without drama these days. And, in fact, just in the past couple of hours, some conservative members, including Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, have asked Kevin McCarthy to delay the vote to replace Cheney. That right now is planned for Friday.

    But they are not happy with Stefanik. They believe she's too moderate. She does have widespread support, however, including from former President Trump, from Kevin McCarthy, from Jim Jordan, who leads the Freedom Caucus. There is not a clear other candidate now, but conservatives are hunting for one.

    It's a long shot for them. But it's just to say that there continues to be frayed ends in all aspects of the Republican Conference right now in the House.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, now over to you, Yamiche.

    Tell us about the White House reaction to all this. And how is it thought that this is going to affect relationships between the White House and Republicans?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Will, Judy, in an era where historic and dramatic moments stand out, today is standing out again.

    What we saw today, of course, was the ouster of Liz Cheney. But what makes this day stand out also is because House Leader Kevin McCarthy came to the White House today. And he didn't want to own up to the idea that Liz Cheney was being ousted from her leadership position because she would not embrace the conspiracy theory, the false conspiracy theory, of course, that the election was rigged.

    Here's what Kevin McCarthy said just minutes after meeting with the president just standing outside the Oval Office, when the question was put to him, how is this going to impact the ability for Democrats and Republicans to work together?

  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy:

    I don't think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. I think that is all over with. We're sitting here with the president today.

    So, from that point of view, I don't think that's a problem.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In fact, of course, we know that former President Trump is every single day questioning the legitimacy of President Biden.

    And that, of course, is a core reason why Liz Cheney was ousted, because she would not back what President Trump, former President Trump, is doing.

    That said, when I talk to White House officials about how this is going to impact the White House's view of Republicans as they try to negotiate deals, they say that the president is determined to try to work with Republicans. They have been using words like grace, responsibility, duty to try to describe why President Biden continues to work with Republicans.

    That said, though, the elephant in the room when Republicans come to the White House is still that this is a party that is embracing the idea that President Biden should not be an office, even though, of course, he legitimately won the election.

    And I have been talking to White House officials, who say the president simply cannot understand what's going on in the GOP. And White House officials are hoping that the GOP will figure out whether or not they want to embrace truth or embrace conspiracy theories.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just quickly, Yamiche, we know the president did meet with the top bipartisan congressional leaders today.

    Is there a sense coming out of that meeting how there may be a chance for any bipartisanship going forward?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, this was a big meeting between the president and the big four congressional leaders.

    It was a 90-minute meeting. I'm told it was constructive, that there were no extra contentious meetings or contentious moments.

    Here's what Senator Mitch McConnell said just outside of the White House moments after the meeting:

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell:

    We're not interested and reopening the 2017 tax bill. We have both made that clear to the president. That's our red line.

    We believe that, in February of 2020, we had the best economy we have had 50 years. We believe that was a major reason for it.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Now, President Biden said his red lines are raising taxes on anyone making under $400,000, as well as inaction.

    Here's what the president said when he was asked today how the meeting went.

  • Pres. Joe Biden:

    Generically, I'm encouraged that there is room to have a compromise on a bipartisan bill that is solid and significant and a means by which to pay for it without dropping all of the — all of the burden on middle-class and working-class people.

    We're getting them out of it. They're coming around. But it has — this has to be a burden shared across the spectrum.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Now, I'm told by White House sources that there is still this feeling that a deal can be reached.

    But the White House really wants to hear from Republicans, they say, how they plan to pay for some of the big plans that President Biden has. Of course, it's $4 trillion worth of plans. Tomorrow, a group of Republicans are going to be coming to the White House again to really present their proposal for how they can deal with infrastructure.

    I'm told that that will be a nuts-and-bolts meeting. So we will have to stand by to see how that meeting goes and whether or not a deal can be reached.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yamiche Alcindor at the White House, Lisa Desjardins reporting on the Hill.

    An important day in Washington, another one.

    Thank you, Lisa and Yamiche.

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