Liz Cheney Won't Back Down So Trump Loyalists Are Standing Up To Take Her Place : The NPR Politics Podcast Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney currently sits as the third highest ranking Republican in the House, but that may not last long. She's at odds with her party over one thing: that former President did in fact lose the election. A rising star and Trump loyalist is now poised to take her position. Plus, as Biden punts on immigration reform, activists worry that no substantial change will come during his term.

This episode: political reporter Juana Summers, congressional correspondent Susan Davis, and White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

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Liz Cheney Won't Back Down So Trump Loyalists Are Standing Up To Take Her Place

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Liz Cheney Won't Back Down So Trump Loyalists Are Standing Up To Take Her Place

Liz Cheney Won't Back Down So Trump Loyalists Are Standing Up To Take Her Place

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NATALIE: Hi, this is Natalie (ph) from Davenport, Fla. I am currently awaiting the arrival of my mom from Chicago. She and I are both fully vaccinated, and I am looking forward to giving her a hug for the first time since Thanksgiving 2019. This podcast was recorded at...


11:17 a.m. on Friday, May 7.

NATALIE: Things may have changed by the time you hear it. Here is the show. And I see my mom coming.



SUMMERS: Oh, my gosh. I just saw my mom for the first time since November of 2019, too, so that one hit me right in the feels.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: (Laughter) That was really sweet.

ORDOÑEZ: That was really sweet.

SUMMERS: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Juana Summers, and I cover politics.

ORDOÑEZ: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: And I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

SUMMERS: This week, all eyes are on Liz Cheney. She represents the state of Wyoming and is currently the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives. She's a staunch conservative, but she's broken with the rest of her party on one big thing, and that's the fact that Joe Biden won the election and former President Trump did not. Sue, can we just start at the beginning of all of this? How long has Congresswoman Cheney been so openly critical of former President Trump?

DAVIS: You know, I would put Cheney in that block of lawmakers that was never really warm to the idea of Donald Trump. She kind of represents more of the old-school Bush-Cheney, obviously, establishment, certainly more of a John McCain type when it came to foreign policy and was always a bit of the right to the Trump on those issues. So she never really loved the guy to begin with, so let's make that clear.

But, you know, January 6 and that impeachment that followed it were really breaking points for Cheney. She has been very clear and consistently clear that she thinks that Donald Trump was directly responsible for the events of January 6 and the insurrection at the Capitol. She voted to impeach him. She has said that she believes he should play no role in the future of the Republican Party. And she has continued to counter him and criticize him for his ongoing efforts to baselessly suggest that the 2020 election was fraudulent or somehow unfair, or that Joe Biden is not the legitimately elected president of the United States. So it is that question, this questioning of Trump, this wanting to push him out of the party that has put her at odds with basically everyone else in the House Republican Conference.

ORDOÑEZ: Sue, I mean, can you talk about, like, the political risks versus the potential benefits that she is taking kind of making this game? And, I mean, she must - she obviously knows what's going on, what's happening, what the stakes she's playing, that she's likely to be pushed out of her leadership position. But she has not backed down at all, despite being warned by leadership and asked by leadership to do it. But she's, you know, held her ground. It's been very interesting to watch. And I'd just love to get your thoughts on more of, you know, what may be the pros and cons that's - how she sees it.

DAVIS: I mean, I think for her own political fortunes, there's no real upsides right now. I mean, on top of sort of the ongoing effort right now that we can talk more about to push her out of her leadership job over this disloyalty to Trump, she's already, you know, accumulating a long list of primary challengers back in Wyoming. She's been censured by the state Republican Party at home. She clearly doesn't have much of a future in House leadership. But does she even have a future in politics anymore?

You know, it's pretty hard to win a Republican primary right now being an anti-Trump Republican. Not just, you know, indifferent Trump, but actively anti-Trump is probably the worst message one can have in a Republican primary electorate. So she's really doing this, you know, and she wrote an extensive op-ed in The Washington Post this week. It's really about principle for her. She thinks that for her, the Republican Party has abandoned its principles. And she said, most provocatively to me in her op-ed, that she thought that Trump's ongoing efforts could provoke more violence in the country. I mean, she genuinely sees Donald Trump as a threat to democracy.

What makes this all so striking is that most House Republicans just disagree, and they just want her gone. So we're pushing forward to what seems like a likely vote to force her out of her job. And she's not really fighting for it. She's not trying to whip a vote. She's not trying to, like, get them to let her stay on. But she does seem to be staring them down and saying, you're going to have to force me out of this job.

ORDOÑEZ: After four years of covering, you know, former President Donald Trump, I'm surprised and not surprised at the power he continues to hold on the Republican Party. It's just - it's really amazing to me. And he's still holding them.

DAVIS: It's almost absolute when it comes to House Republicans. You know, there's different sort of iterations of Republicans. Senate Republicans, they run statewide. Governors - like, there's shades of gray on Trump. But when it comes to House Republicans...


DAVIS: ...Most of which represent districts where Trump probably won by, 60%, 70%, 80%, he can do no wrong. And it's - really isn't about ideology. This isn't about policy. This isn't...


DAVIS: ...About taxes. This is about the singular question of do you - not only just support, but sort of love - do you love and support Donald Trump? Do you want him by your side in the 2022 elections? And most House Republicans are saying, hell yeah, absolutely.

SUMMERS: As I understand it, former President Trump is now weighing in on this situation despite the fact that he is out of office, weighing in on the internal machinations of the leadership fight among the House Republican Conference.

DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, he's gone all in against Cheney. Am I saying that right? He's gone - he's been fighting with Cheney for months now, obviously ever since he's been critical of him and voted for impeachment. Obviously, as we all know about Trump, he doesn't let any of that go. So they've been engaged in lots of a public tit for tat.

But Trump has also thrown his support behind another Republican woman, Elise Stefanik, who's a congresswoman from upstate New York, who I think more and more people probably got to know during the first impeachment. She was pretty prominent during the impeachment hearings and was - as a pretty vocal and vigorous defender of the president during that time. She obviously caught Trump's eye. He really supports her, and he's endorsed her for the job. No one else is running for it as of right now. So assuming they have the votes to force Cheney out of her position, Stefanik seems like she's, as of today, pretty much a lock to take over that job.

SUMMERS: Now, Congresswoman Stefanik is a Trump loyalist now, but I remember when she was first elected. That wasn't always the case.

DAVIS: No, no. I mean, she's young, too. I think she's only 36 years old. She was elected to Congress in 2014. She was 30 at the time, and she got a ton of national press at the time because she was the youngest woman ever elected. There has since been younger women elected, but she held the mantle for a while. And she won a swing district. You know, for the - she won a district that President Barack Obama had won twice. But then Donald Trump went and won it twice. So it's one of those rare Obama-to-Trump seats. And I think that that kind of explains a lot of her evolution.

She came into Congress perceivably a moderate, but more in rhetoric. But her policies were also pretty moderate. And it was around impeachment that she really sort of dramatically shifted. She's gone all-in for Trump. She sort of uses the rhetoric of Trumpism. You know, she talks about Trump derangement syndrome and fake news. And she's really critical of the mainstream media. She has, in no way, pushed back on his doubts about the election. You know, she's - she hasn't embraced them, but she doesn't fact-check or push back on them the way Cheney does. She's not going to be a Trump critic in this job. And that's really been what's going to get it to her, it seems like.

And the thing that's - couple of things I think is fascinating about this. One, she didn't vote with the Trump agenda as much. Liz Cheney voted with Donald Trump more than Elise Stefanik did. Elise Stefanik voted against the Trump tax cuts, is one good example. The other sort of, like, bitter irony here that tells you that politics can just be some of the cruelest business in the world sometimes - Stefanik was one of the lawmakers who nominated Liz Cheney for the job in 2018 and 2020...


DAVIS: ...For these leadership elections. And now she's working to take it from her.

ORDOÑEZ: To me, it's like just another big example of how this has become the Trump Party. Like, back in the day, you know, you had groups like Club for Growth and the Heritage - all these groups, these conservative groups, you know, doing scorecards. And their scorecards for Stefanik are not that great.

DAVIS: Yeah.

ORDOÑEZ: But she is still the front - I mean, like, the very frontrunner. It's because she is Trump's person. It's Trump's party.

SUMMERS: The other thing that I think is worth calling out here is the gender dynamics of all of this. You know, Congresswoman Stefanik is someone who has worked really aggressively to get more Republican women to run for Congress after there was...


SUMMERS: ...Just, like, a glaring disparity between the genders on her side of the aisle. And now she is actively working, it looks like, to become the lone woman in Republican leadership, replacing another woman in Republican leadership.

DAVIS: She absolutely has. And I think that that's an important thing to know about her because when you work that hard to help people get elected, you have sort of a natural base of support within the conference. People - no lawmaker forgets the people that helped get them there. And Stefanik has singularly played a major role not just in recruiting more women to run, but raising money for them, sort of giving them the structural support they need. And that's not the kind of thing that lawmakers forget. So I think that the women in the Republican conference are a natural sort of base of strength for her in these kind of leadership dynamics.

The other thing I'd say is she's really won over some members of the Freedom Caucus, even though their politics are very different. She's closely aligned with Jim Jordan, who's an Ohio Republican who is one of the closest Trump allies. He - she has his support. So she's really managed to cobble together a coalition of support that Cheney absolutely doesn't have, and that serves her well.

SUMMERS: All right. We're going to take a quick break. When we get back, we'll talk about the latest on President Biden's immigration policy.

And we're back. So, Franco, let's just start with a quick rewind, if we can. During the joint address to Congress last week, President Biden touched on a whole lot of policy. But as I listened to it, it sounded like when it came to the border and immigration and those kinds of issues, he really put the onus on Congress to do something.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. And, you know, on Day 1 of President Biden's administration, he introduced this big package to put 11 million undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship. He also established a task force to reunite families separated at the border and reversed really a lot of the policies that former President Trump had put in, you know, those enforcement-focused policies. But, you know, things slowed down. By Day 100, there really wasn't that much talk on his comprehensive package. It was all about the problems on the border. You know, so he shifted, and he suggested that maybe there - it was time for a smaller approach.

DAVIS: Do you think it's fair to think that the administration isn't prioritizing immigration in part because they already have this big, huge legislative lift in front of them, the American Families Plan, his infrastructure package? Like, there's only so much walking and chewing gum Washington can do it one time. And if you try to throw in comprehensive immigration reform to this already very long legislative list, it seems to raise the stakes that absolutely nothing gets done versus your top domestic priorities.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, I think that's a great question. And it's very clear that President Biden's priorities are the infrastructure and jobs package, as well as the education and child care packages. That's where his focus is. That's where his political muscle is. That's - those are the plans that he's traveling around the country promoting. Yes, he acknowledged - you know, he talked about his comprehensive immigration package in his speech, but he hasn't, you know, put the same muscle behind it as these other issues. And that's why these, you know, advocacy groups are, you know, a little bit like, well, what's going on? Why haven't you put more muscle behind them? And they're kind of waiting.

I talked to, you know, a few advocacy groups who said, look; if this issue is not on the couch at the Oval Office, you know, later this summer, early fall, after kind of the White House gets through kind of, you know, this tour, this more recent tour of pitching the infrastructure plan, if immigration is not on the couch at the Oval Office, then they feel like, you know, the White House is not really invested in this, that Biden is not really politically invested in this. And they're watching very, very closely because there are less than two years until the midterms. And in reality, there's even much less than that because in not too long, you know, members of Congress are really going to start focusing on their own campaign. So it's going to be even harder to get any progress on any of these measures done.

SUMMERS: Sue, can we just talk a little bit - zoom out and look at the dynamics on the Hill here. Do you get the sense that there is any sort of political will to do the kind of overhaul that many of the advocates that Franco has been talking to actually want to see from this White House?

DAVIS: There's always been a will, but there's rarely a critical mass of will. And I think there's a couple of things that go on right now. I think that a lot of Democrats on the Hill are where the White House is, is that if they want to win in 2022, the better policies to get them there are infrastructure bills and the American Families Plan. Like, that - those are issues that, frankly, speak to more American households than comprehensive immigration reform.

The logistics of it is that they don't have the votes. You know, House Democrats in the House can't even pass out a comprehensive immigration reform bill of their own accord, let alone get one with Republican support. And in the political dynamics of this, Republicans have been pretty upfront about it. One, they're not going to let any immigration bill go through that doesn't have a border security element. So even the little, smaller bills - not small, but smaller in regards to comprehensive immigration, like the DREAM Act that Franco mentioned, even if that had the votes, they're not going to let anything go through unless they can get a border security win on it, so things could just get dragged out in the process.

I also think politically, Republicans are looking at immigration as a really potent political issue to run against Democrats. You're seeing it in the polling. You're seeing it with - every time there's a congressional recess, there's a codel of Republicans racing down to the border to highlight the crisis there and the humanitarian crisis and the national security crisis. And that is not a dynamic that lends itself to great, big bipartisan compromise. The incentive for Republicans to give Joe Biden a historic win on immigration right now I would say is close to zero.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, I mean, we were just talking earlier in the show about how much Republicans have become Trump's party. It was Trump who showed Republicans the way on immigration, that they can build this base with enforcement-only policies. And, you know, that's what we're seeing in the House. The people that are gaining power are people who feel that way. We saw Kevin McCarthy on the border doing exactly what Sue was talking about. They are using immigration - you know, this fear of the other - to drive enthusiasm from the base.

DAVIS: I think that the interest in doing this is real. But I think most Democrats think, let's get on the other end of these other legislative items. If we can get big, bold, you know, historic victories that help most American families, then maybe we can turn to the really dicey political stuff of immigration reform. It's also why you have some Democrats looking at potential pieces of immigration to try to tuck in to some of these bills. There's an argument that immigration's infrastructure if everything's infrastructure these days. But in terms of standalone, yeah, it's just not the time, as much as that is very disappointing for people that have been advocating for this for a very long time.

SUMMERS: All right. That is enough of the hard stuff for today. Let's take a break. And when we get back, it's time for Can't Let It Go.

And we're back. Y'all, it's been quite the week, and now we're going to end the show like we always do, with Can't Let It Go. It is the part of the show where we talk about all of the things we can't stop thinking about this week, whether it's about politics or something else. And I'm really excited because I don't think I've gotten to do this part of the show since before we all went home at the start of the pandemic, so really excited to be here.

DAVIS: Are you kidding me?

ORDOÑEZ: Oh, wow.

SUMMERS: Yeah. I did one of the last live shows that we did in person out in Thousand Oaks, Calif. I think that was my last Can't Let It Go.

DAVIS: Oh, my God, Juana...


DAVIS: ...That is a failure on our part. I'm going to make sure that that changes. It is not going to be a year before you do another Can't Let It Go.


ORDOÑEZ: I hope your Can't Let It Go really, like, you know, really is something. I mean, I've been waiting a year for it.

DAVIS: The problem is this - the bar is really high now. No pressure, though.


SUMMERS: No pressure. OK, well, we're going to pass the pressure over to you first, Sue.

DAVIS: Oh, good.

SUMMERS: What can't you let go of this week?

DAVIS: The thing I can't let go of in the, like, I needed one more thing to worry about column is Chinese space debris.

SUMMERS: Tell me more.


DAVIS: Apparently there is a Chinese rocket hurtling through space that is going to have a uncontrolled reentry somewhere on Earth this weekend. And The New York Times wrote a story about it. And I can't let it go because it's one of my favorite leads I've read in a long time. And it says, no, you're almost certainly not going to be hit by a 10-story, 23-ton piece of rocket hurtling back to Earth. That said, the chances are not zero.

ORDOÑEZ: Oh, wow.

SUMMERS: I don't think I needed another thing to worry about.


DAVIS: That's what I'm saying. They have some guesses on where they think it will land because, you know, science and all.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, yeah.

DAVIS: But I love that they're not entirely certain. And the area where it could hit extends from, like, the Pacific Ocean all the way through, like, half of Africa. Like, it's a pretty significant chunk of the planet that they think is, like, the estimated zone. Hopefully it lands in the ocean, although hopefully there's no, like, whales around when it lands. But we don't know where it's going to come down. And that's like - 10 stories is like - this isn't, like, a rock. That's, like, a building coming down to Earth (laughter).

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, that's, like, the question I have. It's like, OK, so this - you know, the way they (unintelligible) said, likely, you are not going to get hit. But it sounds like there's a good chance someone is going to get hurt.

DAVIS: Yeah.

ORDOÑEZ: I'm a little - I'm like, well, that makes me just as nervous, or almost as nervous. I mean...

DAVIS: It's also traveling towards Earth...

ORDOÑEZ: And for the whales.

DAVIS: ...At 18,000 miles an hour. Like, it could just be a thing. I hope - my weird hope is that it doesn't hurt anyone, and everyone's fine. But also, I hope that there's some video of this because I kind of want to see how it lands.


SUMMERS: All right. Now that I'm about to have a heart attack, Franco, what can't you let go of this week?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I'm going to stick with the far beyond, and I think kind of like - I think this is where we need to, like, queue "The X-Files" music.


ORDOÑEZ: What I can't let go is that a government watchdog is going to be looking into the Pentagon's handling of UFOs.


ORDOÑEZ: The inspector general for the Department of Defense announced earlier this week on Monday that it was going to be opening a probe into strange sightings over recent years. You know, and it's really interesting - well, obviously, it's interesting because they're looking into UFOs, but it's also interesting because it comes less than a month after the Pentagon confirmed the authenticity of a few videos taken by - I think it was Navy pilots last year - in 2019, actually...

DAVIS: Yeah.

ORDOÑEZ: ...That appeared to show triangle-shaped objects blinking and moving through the clouds. And there was also this other one that was last year that the Pentagon released of these unidentified flying objects zipping by pilots.


UNIDENTIFIED PILOT #1: There's a whole fleet of them. Look on the ASA.


ORDOÑEZ: And I just remember watching them over and over again because the pilots were like, what was that? Where did that go? Did you see that thing?

UNIDENTIFIED PILOT #2: Oh, my gosh, dude. (Unintelligible).

ORDOÑEZ: It kind of wigged me out a bit.

DAVIS: One of the things that surprised me about that story, which I remember, is that you always kind of thought that if the government ever acknowledged UFOs, it would, be, like a much bigger, worldwide, global phenomenon. And that happened, and everyone was like, yeah, totally. I believe it. (Laughter) Like, there was never like a huge - like, the government's officially been like, yeah, there's all kinds of stuff out there. We don't know what it is. And we're like, all right, cool. Just let us know.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. Like, there's UFOs flying around.


ORDOÑEZ: There's a 10-story building that's about to slam into the - you know, into the lake next to my house.

DAVIS: Drum roll, please. No pressure - Juana, what can't you let go this week?

SUMMERS: Oh, gosh. I'm really nervous. I feel like it's almost lunchtime, so I want to talk about food.


SUMMERS: And specifically, I want to talk about chicken wings, which happened to be one of my favorite foods. And apparently we may be experiencing some scarcity, some shortage of not just chicken wings, but chicken in general. There's been a number of stories in places like The Wall Street Journal and Vox and The Post about this, about the increased demand for poultry. And I thought this was really interesting because the chief executive of Wingstop, whose name is Charlie Morrison, told The Wall Street Journal this week that the company is paying 26% more for bone-in chicken wings this year. And I...

ORDOÑEZ: Twenty-six percent? Woah.

SUMMERS: That's so much more. Now, I don't know about y'all, but, like, as I've been going through, like, my machinations of getting takeout during the pandemic or trying to feed my family at home without everybody being totally bored, I've made my fair share of wings during the last year and change.

DAVIS: So this could really hit your family budget, bottom line.

ORDOÑEZ: Sports are getting back into series. I'm start - you know, I'm looking forward to hanging out with friends and eating some chicken wings. I mean, this is a big deal.

SUMMERS: It is a big deal. So there's, like, a couple of reasons why experts say this is happening. Some of them are related to the pandemic and some disruptions in the market and supply chain. And then that's, of course, coupled with the increased demand by people like my house who are looking for takeout-friendly food. But there is also...

DAVIS: Coupled by Juana, coupled by global market forces.

SUMMERS: This is my fault. And then, like, this is all very fun and kind of funny, but there's also been, like, all of this investigative reporting about the conditions that workers in meat and poultry plants have endured during the pandemic. There have been storms that went through the South that halted the work of chicken processors. So there are a lot of things playing into this, which is why if you're going out to a bar or restaurant or getting your takeout or if you go to the grocery store and you're buying wings, you might see those prices come up a little bit.

DAVIS: So you, like, make your own chicken wings?

SUMMERS: I do. I got a question. Do you have an air fryer?

DAVIS: I don't. Do I need one?

SUMMERS: Maybe (laughter).

DAVIS: Maybe we need a podcast episode - was is it that Susan Stamberg does every year on Christmas that's like her cranberry relish famous episode? Maybe we need like a Juana wing fry episode that we'll do every, like, Super Bowl Sunday or something. When you most - I think of wings around the Super Bowl. We'll workshop it. We'll workshop it.

SUMMERS: The Super Bowl is still a sore topic for the Chiefs fan among us, so...


SUMMERS: ...Can't really go there yet. I'm not...

DAVIS: And on that note...


ORDOÑEZ: You won recently.

SUMMERS: Not recently enough.

All right, y'all, that is a wrap for today. Our executive producer is Shirley Henry. Our editors are Muthoni Muturi and Eric McDaniel. Our producers are Barton Girdwood and Chloe Weiner. Thanks to Lexie Schapitl and Brandon Carter. And our intern is Claire Obi (ph). I'm Juana Summers. I cover politics.

ORDOÑEZ: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: And I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

SUMMERS: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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