Rep. Liz Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Richard B. Cheney, is likely to enter the top echelon of House Republican leadership after the current conference chairwoman, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, decided Thursday that she would not seek a fourth term in the position.
McMorris Rodgers’s move to vacate her leadership post, confirmed Thursday by a person familiar with her decision, comes after Republicans lost their eight-year House majority by at least eight and possibly as many as 15 seats in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) launched her leadership bid Wednesday under the expectation that McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) would seek to keep her post. In a letter to colleagues, Cheney signaled dissatisfaction with the job McMorris Rodgers had done and pledged to be a more aggressive messenger for Republicans — one of the chief jobs for a conference chair.
“Although the 115th Congress has been one of the most productive in history, our message isn’t breaking through,” she wrote. “For us to prevail in this new environment, we must fundamentally overhaul and modernize our House GOP communications operation.”
Cheney is the only candidate who has declared a desire for the post. If she is chosen in next week’s Republican leadership elections, it would mark a swift ascent for Cheney, 52, who was first elected to the House in 2016 but has long shown a desire to climb the GOP ranks — for instance, launching a 2014 primary challenge against Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) before withdrawing, citing family health issues.
Cheney’s father occupied the conference chair post from 1987 to 1989 before leaving the House to become defense secretary and, years later, vice president. The current vice president, Mike Pence, also held the job from 2009 to 2011.
For McMorris Rodgers, leaving the GOP leadership table spares Republicans a divisive contest as they seek to settle their top positions after Tuesday’s losses.
A top fundraiser, McMorris Rodgers was the only member of the existing leadership who faced a tough reelection challenge this year, and she ended up winning a comfortable victory in her rural eastern-Washington district. Before the election, she made it known that she would seek to become House majority whip in the expectation that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) would move up to speaker and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) would become the new floor leader if the GOP held the House.
The largely thankless job of conference chair is set to become even more thankless with Republicans in the minority. Now McMorris Rodgers is likely to focus on climbing the ladder on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, pursuing a subcommittee gavel and setting up a potential return to the leadership fold at a later date, according to the person familiar with her thinking.
The lack of a competitive race for conference chair further clarifies the GOP leadership picture as lawmakers prepare to return to work next week. McCarthy faces Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) for the minority-leader post, but there are few signs that McCarthy will fall short. Scalise, meanwhile, is running unopposed to remain as whip.