Six days earlier, Cheney was in the House chamber, urging that Republicans reject efforts pushed by Trump and many others in her party to challenge the electoral college results that determined Trump had lost his reelection bid. She did not know she was being attacked by Trump, who was delivering the speech that would incite a mob to storm the Capitol, until her father reached her by phone in the House cloakroom.
“We got to get rid of the weak congresspeople, the ones that aren’t any good, the Liz Cheneys of the world,” Trump said in the speech, singling her out as he urged the mob to march to the Capitol.
After being informed of the president’s tirade by her father, Cheney walked out on the House floor, still hoping to stop the effort backed by Trump to overturn the electoral college votes. Then she heard a mob banging on the chamber’s doors and a shot fired, and realized that an attempted insurrection was underway. She hustled to a secure location and later called Fox News.
“There is no question that the president formed the mob, the president incited the mob, the president addressed the mob,” Cheney told the network where she once worked and whose pundits had long supported Trump. “He lit the flame.”
The dramatic moments, recounted by a source familiar with them, led her to back impeachment.
“The president could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence,” Cheney said in the statement. “He did not.”
The decision marked an extraordinary denouement for Cheney and her potentially precarious perch in the party’s leadership. She had feuded for months with Trump and lately had been at odds with the majority of her caucus, even as speculation mounts about whether she might one day seek the speakership. The move was applauded by those in the party who have urged a clean break with Trump.
“It is a remarkable statement that sets a new bar for leadership in the House,” said Brendan Buck, a former aide to House Speaker John A. Boehner. “She is turning the page on Donald Trump. I think she is doing the right thing in her mind, and when you do the right thing for the right reasons you have to hope the politics work out for you.”
At the same time, he said, the decision will prompt Republicans who disagree with her decision to consider “whether there should be political consequences for her internally.”
Tuesday night, Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) called for Cheney to step down as the chair of the House Republican Conference. “She is weakening our conference at a key moment for personal political gain and is unfit to lead,” he said in a statement.
Liz Cheney, 54, has been a member of the House of Representatives for only four years, coinciding with Trump’s presidency. But she rose in meteoric fashion to the top ranks of GOP leadership after just one term representing Wyoming, leaving admirers and enemies in her wake.
Liz Cheney declined to comment. Richard Cheney did not respond to a request for comment.
She and her father have had an up-and-down relationship with Trump that turned toxic. As she heard Trump and many of her colleagues declare several weeks ago that Congress should seek to challenge the electoral college results, she sat down to write a 21-page memo warning Republicans against the effort.
“By objecting to electoral slates, members are unavoidably asserting that Congress has the authority to overturn elections and overrule state and federal courts,” she wrote in the memo, which she released last week. “Such objections set an exceptionally dangerous precedent, threatening to steal states’ explicit constitutional responsibility for choosing the President and bestowing it instead on Congress. This is directly at odds with the Constitution’s clear text and our core beliefs as Republicans.”
Cheney’s memo was hailed by Democrats. But the advice was not heeded by the vast majority of those in Cheney’s caucus, as 139 out of 211 House Republicans voted to challenge electoral college votes from Arizona, Pennsylvania or both.
Among those supporting the effort to challenge the results was Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), a potential rival to Cheney for the speakership if Republicans regain the House in two years. McCarthy spokesman Matt Sparks said Republicans welcome differing views and said the “leadership team is united.”
On Monday night, in a conference call with Republicans, McCarthy said he opposed impeachment, while Cheney declined to reveal her view, other than to say, “This is going to be a vote of conscience.”
Cheney served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs during the administration of her father’s first term as vice president. She then played a crucial role in the 2004 Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, after which she returned to her post at the State Department and later served a stint as a Fox News pundit.
In 2016, Cheney sought Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat, which her father had once held. After winning the seat, Cheney’s ambition was to become one of the most powerful women on Capitol Hill.
After winning reelection in 2018, a year in which Republicans lost control of the House, enabling Nancy Pelosi to become speaker, Cheney ran for a post traditionally sought by longtime members: leadership of the House Republican Conference Committee.
She won the post by arguing that Republicans needed to change their messaging and be more aggressive. Soon she was launching all-out assaults, saying in March 2019 on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Democrats were “the party of anti-Semitism, the party of infanticide, the party of socialism.”
Moderator Chuck Todd responded by asking Cheney, “Do you feel comfortable that President Trump has done enough to tamp down this right-wing fringe anti-Semitism that has been rising up?”
Cheney did not directly answer the question, which foreshadowed elements of the attack on the Capitol. “Look, I don’t believe this is right or left,” she said. “I think this is an issue on which all of us should come together.”
Trump had feuded with Cheney’s father, saying in 2011 that “I didn’t like Cheney when he was a vice president. Here’s a guy that did a rotten job as vice president. Nobody liked him.”
Richard Cheney, meanwhile, said in February 2016 that Trump sounded like a “liberal Democrat” and that he would not endorse him. But two months later, CNN reported that Cheney was breaking with the two former Bush presidents, who did not support Trump, and endorsed him at a time when the candidate had all but wrapped up the nomination.
After the election, with Liz Cheney winning a House seat at the same time Trump captured the presidency, Trump baldly tried to win the Cheney family’s goodwill. He pardoned the elder Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice. Trump said Liz Cheney had pushed for the pardon.
Speaking at the White House in July 2019, Trump said, “Scooter Libby is a man that got treated very unfairly and Liz was right in the forefront of that one and I said, ‘What do you think, Liz,’ and you said, ‘Absolutely, he deserves it,’ and it’s been a very popular pardon.” At another event, Trump said that “Liz Cheney was so dedicated — and the loyalty. That was just an honor for me to do it.” He called Cheney “a wonderful person, and somebody that has, I don’t know, a pretty unlimited future.”
Soon, however, Cheney and Trump were at political war.
A fight with Trump
Cheney criticized Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, seeming to scorn the president’s resistance to wearing a mask by tweeting a picture of her father wearing a face covering with the hashtag #realmenwearmasks. After Trump said “I appreciate” support from QAnon, the conspiracy theory group, Cheney called it a “dangerous lunacy.”
Cheney blasted Trump’s proposal to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany as “dangerously misguided,” prompting a rebuke from Trump, who tweeted that “Liz Cheney is only upset because I have been actively getting our great and beautiful Country out of the ridiculous and costly Endless Wars.” The dispute prompted some House Republicans to launch a failed effort to oust her from her leadership post.
In his speech inciting the mob to storm the Capitol, Trump sounded obsessed with Cheney’s criticism of him on the issue. After saying “we got to get rid” of Cheney, he said, “You know, she never wants a soldier brought home. I brought a lot of soldiers home.”
Cheney, who was unanimously reelected to her leadership position in November, has a voting record that underscores her conservatism. She has high ratings from right-leaning organizations and zero percent ratings from groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for gay rights; the League of Conservation Voters; and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, according to GovTrack.
Stuart Stevens, a political consultant who worked with Liz Cheney during both Bush-Cheney campaigns and recently wrote a book in which he predicted she would run for president, said she has become the “de facto leader of the Republican Party,” which he said should be distinguished from what he called the pro-Trump “authoritarian party.”
Cheney’s recent actions helped mend a family rift. She was once criticized by her sister, Mary, who is openly gay and married, for opposing same-sex marriage.
“As many people know, Liz and I have definitely had our differences, but I am incredibly proud of how she handled herself during the fight over the Electoral College,” Mary Cheney wrote on her Facebook page last week. “She stood up to President Trump. . . . He even denounced her by name from the stage at yesterday’s rally — something that should definitely be considered a badge of honor. Good job Big Sister.”
Alice Crites and Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.