House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Monday sent a letter to House Republicans telling them to expect a vote in their Wednesday conference meeting to remove Rep. Liz Cheney as the conference chair.
The letter comes after it became clear Republicans would make such a move during their regularly scheduled meeting amid increasing discontent with Cheney, R-Wyo. McCarthy, R-Calif., last week was already making calls to clear the field for Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., to replace Cheney.
“Just as we serve at the will of our constituents, this leadership team should exist to serve you, not the other way around,” McCarthy wrote to GOP House members Monday. “Unfortunately, each day spent relitigating the past is one day less we have to seize the future.”
McCarthy added: “Having heard from so many of you in recent days, it’s clear that we need to make a change. As such, you should anticipate a vote on recalling the Conference Chair this Wednesday.”
Cheney voted to impeach former President Donald Trump and vocally blamed Trump’s false claims that the presidential election was stolen for the attack on the Capitol by a mob of his supporters. That vote and those comments led to an attempt to remove her as conference chair earlier this year, which she easily survived with the help of McCarthy.
But as many Republicans have worked to rehabilitate the image of the former president — and made the political calculation that the party cannot succeed in the midterms without his backing — discontent with Cheney has slowly grown. As other Republicans who voted to impeach Trump have seemed to move on to direct their fire at President Biden, Cheney has continued to lambast Trump and said the GOP needs to distance itself from him.
This has led to awkward moments with other House leaders, brewing discontent among rank-and-file members and a schism that seemed to irreparably explode at House Republicans’ policy retreat in Florida late last month.
Cheney, for her part, has not backed down from her position that Republicans must denounce Trump’s false election claims, which he’s continued to relitigate as recently as Monday.
“The question before us now is whether we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have,” she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last week.
“While embracing or ignoring Trump’s statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes, that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country,” she added. “Trump has never expressed remorse or regret for the attack of Jan. 6 and now suggests that our elections, and our legal and constitutional system, cannot be trusted to do the will of the people.”
When asked whether it was time for Trump to let go of his election gripes on Monday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said “we’re gonna do both things at once, it looks like, complain and look at the future.”
McCarthy in his Monday letter continued to say that although Republicans consider themselves a “big tent party,” focusing on Trump’s false election claims in the way Cheney has harms Republicans’ ability to win future elections.
“We are a big tent party. We represent Americans of all backgrounds and continue to grow our movement by the day. And unlike the left, we embrace free thought and debate,” McCarthy said.
“All members are elected to represent their constituents as they see fit, but our leadership team cannot afford to be distracted from the important work we were elected to do and the shared goals we hope to achieve,” McCarthy added. “The stakes are too high to come up short.”
A vote on Cheney can be called by a group of 50 members with a signed petition — or by McCarthy himself.
It’s unclear, however, that Republicans will move immediately to replace Cheney with Stefanik, who has emerged as a peerless frontrunner for the conference chair position. Stefanik has loudly defended Trump in her rhetoric but some members are concerned about her voting record, which they point out is not particularly conservative. Others think McCarthy is moving too fast.
One member said that immediately installing Stefanik Republicans would take away from main point of what Republicans plan to do Wednesday — ousting Cheney for insufficient loyalty to Trump.
“You step on the lede if you replace Liz right away. This should be about ‘Liz Cheney, you’re fired,’” one member said.
Cheney’s team, meanwhile, says that Wednesday’s vote is about whether House Republicans will officially back Trump’s false election claims and by extension the Jan. 6 attack.
“This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on Jan 6. Liz will not do that. That is the issue,” Cheney spokesperson Jeremy Adler said in a statement last week.