NOEL KING, HOST:
Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney is the third highest ranking Republican in the House for now. House Republicans want to force her out of the job of Republican conference chair. They're mad about two things. She voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for his role in inciting the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. And she continues to confront his false allegations that the 2020 election was fraudulent. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is following this one. Good morning, Sue.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.
KING: Didn't House Republicans already try to force Liz Cheney out of leadership?
DAVIS: They did. They tried back in February after the impeachment vote. And she defeated the challenge by a nearly 2-to-1 margin on a secret ballot. But where most House Republicans have either maintained Trump did nothing wrong or at least they no longer want to talk about it publicly, Cheney's just been relentless in attacking Trump and has said she wants him to play absolutely no role in the party going forward. And this is at a time when most Republicans are courting his support ahead of the 2022 midterms. So her specific leadership job is about crafting party messaging. And her message is just out of step with most Republicans even if what she is saying is, essentially, true. Trump is wrong. The election was not stolen.
KING: And for a while, she had the support of her fellow party leaders, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise. So what, they've just kind of abandoned her now?
DAVIS: Yeah. It's really been a spectacular sight to watch to see a party's leadership turn on each other like this. This does not happen very often. McCarthy has barely appeared with her in public since March. He's distanced himself from an interview with her with Fox News earlier this week. And he was caught on a hot mic later on that show saying he lost faith in her. Scalise took it even further. He put out a statement saying he was going to support a colleague against her, New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik. Stefanik has since announced she's courting support. Trump has endorsed her for the job.
The brutal sort of irony here for Cheney is that Stefanik nominated her for the leadership job in 2018 and 2020 and is now working to take it from her. But Stefanik has been a Trump loyalist. She's not going to criticize him the way Cheney has. Cheney also has a more conservative voting record than Stefanik. For instance, Stefanik voted against the Trump tax cuts. So it really is all about where one stands on Trump. The House has been out of session this week. But they're expected - this is all expected to come to a head next week when they meet in private. If Cheney doesn't step down, they can essentially just force a vote in private to remove her and then elect her replacement.
KING: What is she saying?
DAVIS: She wrote an op-ed yesterday in The Washington Post in which she defended herself. She said this is bigger than her. It's bigger than a leadership race, that it's about what the Republican Party wants to be - in her words, she said, whether they'll choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution and rule of law or fealty to Donald Trump in what she describes as an anti-democratic, lowercase-d cult of personality. She again said that Trump's efforts to undermine the election are dangerous and said they could provoke more violence. So this vote is going to obviously now take on a much greater symbolism about who wants to stand by Trump then just who should be sitting at the leadership table.
We note this has been, really, a pretty dramatic change for Cheney's personal political fortune. She had long been seen as this rising star. She had turned down a Senate bid a couple of years ago. And she was seen as maybe parting a path to the speakership in the House. It's really hard to see her rising up the party leadership ladder right now. But back home, she's also facing a primary challenge for her seat. And she's been censured by her state Republican Party for her impeachment vote.
KING: As you're watching all of this, what does it tell you about Trump's continued influence over the Republican Party?
DAVIS: I mean, when it comes to House Republicans specifically, it seems pretty clear that his power is absolute. There's just no lane to be a Republican of any influence and criticize Trump the way Cheney has been doing. I think it's a warning to the other Republicans who voted for impeachment or have been critical of Trump that they need to proceed with caution in 2022. But there's also some bigger risk here. You know, good primary politics don't always mean good November politics. Republicans are going to try to win back a House majority. But they're trying to win back voters who are pretty repulsed by what Trump did.
KING: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thank you, Sue.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
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