U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney’s vote to impeach President Donald Trump set off a torrent of praise, criticism and speculation about her political future, both in Wyoming and on the national stage.
Her principled stance was dramatic, if not a true game changer in Congress. For all the hoopla she generated, though, Cheney did move the goalposts and helped position her as a leader in the GOP’s post-Trump world.
If she’s trying to follow in the footsteps of her father, Dick Cheney, who served as the most powerful vice president in our nation’s history, it must be a pretty heady moment — especially since he agreed with her position.
In the wake of her vote, some Republicans branded Cheney a traitor to conservative ideals, while Democrats hailed her decision as a profile in courage. Regardless of party, many viewed it as a calculated political move.
But no matter how much ink, airtime and online punditry is spent on those issues, they are still secondary to the fundamental question: Did Cheney do the right thing?
Unquestionably, she did. In a statement, Cheney outlined the tremendous threat Trump unleashed on democracy by inciting a Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. His malicious goal to stop the counting of certified state electoral votes followed two months of lies that the election was stolen.
The effort failed, but the riot caused five deaths, massive property destruction and immeasurable shame in what Cheney called the sacred house of our republic.
“[Trump] assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack,” she said in a statement. “None of this would have happened without the president, [who] could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not.”
Cheney then summed it up with stunning words that had Trump fans across the country howling: “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
Cheney, head of the House Republican Conference, is the third-highest ranking GOP official in the chamber. Trump’s hard-core supporters, including members of the far-right Freedom Caucus, reacted to her vote with calls for her to resign her leadership position or be removed.
The caucus circulated a resolution that says Cheney’s position “does not reflect that of the majority of the Republican Conference and has brought the conference into disrepute and produced discord.”
Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Montana) didn’t sound very neighborly when he said ignoring the pro-Trump views of Republican voters makes Cheney “unfit to lead.”
To her credit, Cheney said she won’t be bullied. “I’m not going anywhere. This is a vote of conscience,” she told Politico. “It’s one where there are different views in our conference. But our nation is facing an unprecedented, since the Civil War, constitutional crisis.”
“Its (sic) a statewide embarrassment that our only voice in the House of Representatives, Liberal Liz, is included in this list of hyper moderates!” the Wyoming Gun Owners posted on its Facebook account, linking to a story that named Republicans who voted for impeachment. “What a joke.”
Far-right primary challengers, line up here. If you think you’ll defeat a Cheney in Wyoming, the joke is on you.
The Wyoming Republican Party released a statement that erroneously claimed Cheney denied Trump due process because “she judged the ‘evidence’ before it was presented and refused to listen to the arguments made.”
The House decides if a federal official who allegedly committed treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors should be formally accused. No hearings are required, and in Trump’s case, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) decided they weren’t necessary to charge him.
“This president of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion, against our common country,” Pelosi said as she opened the debate. “He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.”
If a simple majority in the House votes to impeach, the Senate then conducts a trial, which is when evidence is presented and arguments made. The House vote to impeach Trump was 232-197, with Cheney and nine other Republicans joining the majority.
A two-thirds Senate majority is required to convict. Trump will already have left office by the time his trial begins, but if convicted, he could be barred from holding office again and lose his presidential retirement and other benefits.
The official Wyoming GOP response claims Cheney has “aligned herself with leftists.” In case you are curious what that means, Republicans spelled out the unsavory types their former golden girl is now hanging around in dark alleys.
“We have watched the leftists and progressives in this country riot, burn, kill, maim, loot and destroy cities and communities for seven months, often with Democrat[ic] leaders egging them on, bailing them out and refusing to condemn their actions,” the statement read.
First, such claims parroted by right-wing media are false. But even if they were true, what would it have to do with charges that the president incited an insurrection to directly interfere with the election and retain power?
At a rally outside the White House before the insurrection, Trump castigated his own ever-loyal vice president, Mike Pence, for correctly saying he couldn’t change the Electoral College outcome when the votes were counted at the Capitol.
“So I hope Mike has the courage to do what he has to do,” Trump said. “And I hope he doesn’t listen to the RINOs [Republicans in Name Only] and the stupid people that he’s listening to.”
Then the crowd marched to the Capitol, where they crashed the proceedings while many shouted, “Hang Mike Pence!” A gallows with a noose was erected outside.
It will be up to the Senate to decide if there was proper cause-and-effect in Trumpville to convict.
For the record, the president also called Cheney out at his pep rally. “In a year from now, you’re going to start working on Congress and we got to get rid of the weak Congress, people, the ones that aren’t any good, the Liz Cheneys of the world,” Trump said.
Wyoming’s congresswoman has supported Trump’s positions in about 95% of her votes during the past four years, but it hasn’t kept her from breaking ranks with him on key issues.
The biggest clashes have been over the president’s Mideast troop withdrawals. He’s blasted her as the spawn of a “neocon” warmonger; she says he’s helping Russia at the expense of our allies and own interests.
I admit I had to smile last June when, after Trump was loath to put on a mask in public during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cheney tweeted a photo of her father wearing one. The accompanying hashtag said it all: “#realmenwearmasks.”
I’ve had friends tell me, “You know, I’m not a fan of Liz Cheney,” and then express surprise that she had the guts to say something negative about Trump. There’s usually a gleam in their eyes.
I’m certainly not willing to give Cheney a pass for all the times she’s enabled Trump’s race-baiting, misogyny and general off-the-rails behavior. Nor would I think for a nanosecond that she could ever be a RINO or a closet liberal.
But even if we discover that Cheney’s vote to impeach was just an effort to eventually position herself to run for speaker of the House, or perhaps the White House, I won’t think ill of her for it.
Too few Republicans were willing to hold the president accountable for the Capitol’s darkest day. So, Wyoming GOP, if you don’t mind, I’ll stand over here, in the shadows of the 70% of your members who voted for Trump, and offer a token of — dare I say it? — gratitude for Wyoming’s representative.