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Internal divides over last year's election and the future of the party have come to a head as House Republicans seem to be moving to replace their No. 3 leader, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney. Lisa Desjardins reports on where Republicans are drawing the line on her comments about President Trump and the party itself.
Now to a leadership shakeup in the GOP and a critical moment for Republicans. Internal divides over last year's election and the future of the party have again come to a head, as House Republicans seem to be moving to replace their number three leader.
Lisa Desjardins has our report.
Rep. Liz Cheney:
A party leader, but for how long? House Republicans seem to have had enough of their conference chair, Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney, and within days are expected to oust her from leadership.
It's a stunning turn of events in just three months.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy:
The number one thing that happened in the conference was unity.
When Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and Cheney together resoundingly defeated another attempt to remove her.
We're not going to be in a situation where people can pick off any member of leadership.
In a secret ballot then, two-thirds of Republicans supported her, despite inner-party critics like Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, who flew to Cheney's home district to campaign against her.
Rep. Matt Gaetz:
You can send Liz Cheney home!
A staunch conservative and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, the congresswoman was seen as a rising star on the right when she won the leadership position back in 2018.
We will take a backseat to no one.
But that all changed after January 6. Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans who joined Democrats in impeaching former President Donald Trump, charging that he played a role in the interaction.
Defending her vote, she released a blistering statement that President Trump lit the flame of attack.
The extent to which, following January 6, I don't believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.
But President Trump has kept a commanding role in the party and continued to blast falsehoods about November, this week declaring it "the fraudulent presidential election of 2020," trying to redefine things the results as the big lie.
On Twitter, Cheney fired back that anyone who claims the election was stolen is "spreading the big lie and poisoning our democratic system."
Now fellow Republicans say she's gone too far.
I have heard from members concerned about her ability to carry out the job as conference chair.
McCarthy is openly asking whether Cheney can communicate the party's message. And in a comment made before a FOX News interview and leaked to Axios, McCarthy indicated his personal patience has run out.
I think she's got real problems. I have lost confidence. Well, someone just has to bring a motion. But I assume that will probably take place.
Cheney has defenders. On Twitter, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger said she is being removed for telling the truth.
And The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote: "Purging Liz Cheney for honesty would diminish the party."
Pres. Donald Trump:
Get rid of them all.
But none of that outweighs the party's current standard-bearer, who just yesterday called Cheney "a warmongering fool" with "no business in Republican Party leadership."
In The Washington Post, Cheney blasted back, writing this is a turning point for the party, that it needs to stand for conservative principles and steer away from the dangerous Trump cult of personality.
But Mr. Trump is moving on, endorsing an ally he pointed out at a 2020 rally, New York Representative Elise Stefanik. With Cheney on the outs, she's the favorite to become as the sole woman in House GOP leadership.
And Lisa joins me now.
So, Lisa, tell us the latest. What is expected right now with regard to a formal vote on Cheney?
This is extraordinary. It's quiet in Washington, with lawmakers mostly out of town, but this has been a storm in the Republican Conference this week.
It does seem all signs are for a vote that may be impossible to stop right now next Wednesday to remove Cheney from her leadership post. Some signs of that today, Elise Stefanik is calling around, sometimes calling multiple times to members.
But I talked to members like Kevin Brady of Texas, well-respected, who said he supported Cheney last time on that vote. Now he's undecided. Also, another member who supported Cheney last time told me they believe that two-thirds of the people who voted with Cheney just three months ago are now going to vote against her.
So, Lisa, what has changed since then? As you pointed out, that vote took place just a few months ago. What are Republicans telling you has changed?
I think consider House Republicans in two groups in terms of what's happening with Liz Cheney.
The first group is Republicans who did vote for Cheney last time, but generally support President Trump. What I heard from this group, talking to many of them over the past few days, is that, the last time they voted, Marjorie Taylor Greene was also a factor, because, remember, at that time, House Republicans were choosing not to punish her for her statements that were seen as inflammatory.
These Republicans tell me now that, at the time, they didn't feel that they could let Greene off the hook, but yet punish Cheney. So, in a way, they see that vote as connected to both sides of the party as it comes to Trump.
They say now, with Cheney making these statements on her own, with Greene sort of out of the picture, that Cheney has just gone too far and is kind of provoking too much when it comes to President Trump. So that's the one group.
The other group that's interesting that I spoke with are Republicans who say they actually agree with Cheney. They think everything she's saying about President Trump is correct. Now, note, they're not saying in public. But they tell me the problem they have is that they think her words are empowering President Trump, that she is actually activating his base and making them consider and talk more about the election as fraudulent in a way they believe is unhelpful.
They think she is just picking a battle that is actually harming things. And this group, when you think about it, Judy, you have a situation for Cheney that, if she has lost those who support President Trump and also has a problem with those who want to move past President Trump, she's lost nearly all of the House Republicans.
Well, it does sound like it.
Lisa, just stepping back in terms of the politics more broadly, what's the thinking about political ramifications from this?
Well, there are some for Cheney herself. She will have to defend her seat or decide if she's going to defend her seat. She also has to decide if she will stick forth and keep up for this leadership election next week.
Some would like her to resign. There's no indication she's going to. In fact, I spoke to a source familiar with Cheney's thinking, and she says that she doesn't want this post if it requires that she has to lie in order to keep it. But it does sound like she's willing to not resign. She's going to make Republicans vote on this.
The other ramification, Judy, Democrats tell me they are hopeful that perhaps this will help them next year by making the Republican Party look more extreme that it's ousting someone, even a conservative like Liz Cheney.
What do Republicans say? I talked to a Republican senator and Republican House members. They don't buy that. They think that the election is a long way away, and they think something like this is inside Washington.
And just quickly, Lisa, do we know yet whether this vote will be secret ballot, as the other one was?
We expect it to be secret ballot, unless — I would be surprised if it is anything else.
Lisa Desjardins with more excellent reporting.
Thank you, Lisa.
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Lisa Desjardins is a correspondent for PBS NewsHour, where she covers news from the U.S. Capitol while also traveling across the country to report on how decisions in Washington affect people where they live and work.
Tess Conciatori is a politics production assistant at PBS NewsHour.
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