The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Cheney continues her lonely ‘battle for the soul of the Republican Party’

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) spoke to reporters on May 12 after the House Republican Conference voted to oust her as conference chair. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Rep. Liz Cheney was interviewed by ABC News's Jonathan Karl on Sunday. The interview occurred Friday. This article has been corrected.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who last week was voted out from House Republican leadership, continued over the weekend her lonely campaign against former president Donald Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election, slamming her GOP colleagues for their attempts at “whitewashing” the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and warning that Trump’s claims are actively eroding American democracy.

“I think it’s dangerous,” Cheney said Friday in an interview with Jonathan Karl on ABC News’s “This Week” that aired Sunday. “I think that we have to recognize how quickly things can unravel. We have to recognize what it means for the nation to have a former president who has not conceded, and who continues to suggest that our electoral system cannot function, cannot do the will of the people.”

Cheney was ousted Wednesday from her position as House conference chair after persistently criticizing Trump. Her GOP colleagues on Friday voted to replace her with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who has a more moderate voting record but who has been willing to indulge Trump’s baseless claims that the election was stolen — dubbed by Cheney and others as the “big lie.”

She insisted that it was only a “relatively small number” of Republicans who actually believed in Trump’s untrue accusations about the election, and that several of her colleagues’ votes were being affected because they were worried about threats to their lives.

“I won’t be part of that,” she said. “And I think it’s very important for Republicans who won’t be part of that to stand up and speak out.”

Cheney expressed regret for voting for Trump in 2020 and did not expressly rule out a presidential run of her own in 2024, though she acknowledged that “at this moment, the majority of the Republican Party is not where I am.”

In her interview with Karl, she said the Jan. 6 insurrection — in which a pro-Trump mob overran the Capitol in a violent siege that left five people dead — is what had made her believe more Republicans would join her in speaking out against Trump. Cheney said when the Capitol was under siege, she remembered looking across the aisle and seeing Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), who held up his phone and told her, “Liz, there’s a Confederate flag flying in the rotunda.”

“This cannot be happening in the United States of America,” she recalled thinking then.

Instead, Cheney has found herself increasingly isolated within the GOP. She harshly criticized her colleagues who in the past week tried to downplay the Jan. 6 insurrection, including one who had described it as a “normal tourist visit.”

“It’s indefensible,” Cheney said. “The notion that this was somehow a tourist event is disgraceful and despicable. And, you know, I won’t be part of whitewashing what happened on January 6. Nobody should be part of it, and people have to be held accountable.”

Cheney said she was supportive of the agreement House Republicans and Democrats had made on a bipartisan, 9/11-style commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack, noting that she was glad Democrats had rejected suggestions from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) that the commission’s focus be diluted.

Cheney also further broke with McCarthy by saying she “wouldn’t be surprised” if he were subpoenaed as part of the Jan. 6 commission’s probe into the events surrounding the storming of the Capitol that day. McCarthy, who spoke to Trump on the phone as the insurrection was taking place, reportedly told colleagues about private conversations that he had with Trump during the day. But McCarthy has since publicly backed off his prior criticism of Trump’s handling of the riot.

“He absolutely should,” Cheney told Karl, when asked whether McCarthy should be willing to testify before the commission. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if he were subpoenaed. I think that he very clearly … said publicly that he’s got information about the president’s state of mind that day.”

The House is scheduled to vote on the commission next week.

McCarthy’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement last week, Trump called Cheney “a bitter, horrible human being. I watched her yesterday and realized how bad she is for the Republican Party. She has no personality or anything good having to do with politics or our Country.”

Cheney sidestepped questions about whether she would run for president in 2024, instead saying she was focused on representing her district in Wyoming, a state that Trump won with nearly 70 percent of the vote. She did acknowledge that her father, former vice president Richard B. Cheney, wants her to run.

“Well, yeah, but he’s my dad, so, he’s not objective,” she said, laughing.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Cheney maintained that Trump was a “real danger” to the rule of law.

“In order for us to be in the strongest possible position to be able to prevail, to be able to defeat the ideas that we see coming from the other side that are really bad for the country, we have to be a party that’s based on a foundation of truth,” Cheney said. “I’m not willing to be complicit or silent in the face of those lies coming from President Trump.”

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) spoke to interviewers on May 16, two days after being ousted from House Republican leadership. (Video: The Washington Post)

On Fox News, Cheney also more directly criticized McCarthy and Stefanik, agreeing when host Chris Wallace asked if the two GOP lawmakers were “complicit” in Trump’s lie that he won the 2020 election.

“There are some things that have to be bigger than party,” Cheney said.

Cheney also said she was willing to sacrifice her political career by continuing to challenge Trump’s false election claims, calling the fight “the opening salvo in what is a battle for the soul of the Republican Party.”

Felicia Sonmez and Adriana Usero contributed to this report.

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