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McCarthy endorses Cheney’s primary rival in rebuke of Republican incumbent who has denounced Trump

In an interview with the Federalist, McCarthy said he looks forward to working with Harriet Hageman, Wyoming’s former national Republican committeewoman.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), with Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and other members of the chamber's GOP leadership, talk to reporters in 2018. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday endorsed attorney Harriet Hageman in her primary race in Wyoming against Rep. Liz Cheney, a rebuke of the Republican incumbent and former member of House leadership who has denounced Donald Trump.

In an interview with the conservative online magazine the Federalist, McCarthy (R-Calif.) voiced his support for Hageman’s candidacy in a contest that will serve as the marquee test of the former president’s ability to purge his critics from the party, particularly lawmakers who challenge his false claims about the 2020 presidential election.

“After spending time with Harriet, it is readily apparent she will always listen and prioritize the needs of her local communities and is focused on tackling our nation’s biggest problems,” McCarthy told the Federalist. “I look forward to serving with Harriet for years to come.”

Jeremy Adler, Cheney’s spokesman, dismissed McCarthy’s endorsement in a statement to The Washington Post.

“Wow, she must be really desperate,” Adler said.

Cheney has drawn the ire of many in the GOP as she has insisted her fidelity is to the Constitution and not Trump, whom she holds responsible for inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral college win. More than 100 members of law enforcement were assaulted in the attack that resulted in five dead.

As punishment for her heresy, House Republicans, led by McCarthy, ousted Cheney from her leadership position as conference chairman, the No. 3 post in the party, last May. Cheney said then: “I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who replaced Cheney in leadership, also endorsed Hageman in a statement Friday morning.

“House Republicans were ready for a change when I took over as Conference Chair, and it’s resoundingly clear that Wyoming families are too,” Stefanik said, deriding Cheney as a “far-left Pelosi puppet” despite the congresswoman’s strong conservative voting record.

Cheney was among 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the deadly insurrection. She and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) are the only Republicans serving on the select House committee tasked with investigating the attack on the Capitol.

McCarthy’s endorsement comes less than two weeks after the Republican National Committee voted to condemn Cheney and Kinzinger in a censure resolution passed overwhelmingly on a voice vote. The resolution denounces the House committee’s investigation as “a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse” and states that the behavior of Cheney and Kinzinger “has been destructive to the institution of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican Party and our republic.

In addition to the formal censure at the party’s winter meeting in Salt Lake City, RNC leaders passed a special rule to recognize her challenger as the party’s presumptive nominee. Along with Hageman, retired Army Col. Denton Knapp is also challenging Cheney in the state’s GOP primary.

Hageman, a lawyer who has worked on cases challenging federal actions on water rights and natural resources, has already received Trump’s endorsement. She stepped down as Wyoming’s national Republican committeewoman last September ahead of Trump’s announcement. Previously, she mounted an unsuccessful run for governor in 2018, finishing third in a six-person primary that was won by Gov. Mark Gordon (R).

Upon hearing the news of Trump’s endorsement of Hageman for the at-large seat, Cheney quipped a quick answer: “Bring it.”

Later, she said it was “tragic” that some in the primary race had “sacrificed ... their principles and their duty to the people of Wyoming out of fear and in favor of loyalty to a former president who deliberately misled the American people about the 2020 election, provoked an attack on the U.S. Capitol, and failed to perform his duties as president as the violence ensued.”

Hageman had previously supported Cheney, donating to past campaigns and serving as an adviser to her failed Senate bid in 2013. But she also turned on Cheney after she became an outspoken critic of Trump.

Despite her party’s condemnation, Cheney has been setting personal fundraising records, raising $2.04 million in the fourth quarter of 2021, topping a previous record of $1.9 million in 2021’s second quarter, according to Federal Election Commission filings.