Several House Republicans attacked House GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming during a conference meeting Tuesday morning for supporting Dr. Anthony Fauci and splitting with President Donald Trump on a variety of issues over the past few months, three sources who were in the room told CNN.
Members including Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Chip Roy of Texas, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Ralph Norman of South Carolina all chimed in to air grievances against Cheney.
Gaetz escalated the situation later on Tuesday, tweeting that Cheney “should step down or be removed.” He claimed Cheney has worked against Trump’s agenda. Donald Trump Jr., the President’s son, also joined in, tweeting that Republicans “already have one Mitt Romney, we don’t need another.”
Cheney later responded publicly to the comments: “Donald Trump Jr. Is not a member of the House Republican Conference,” she said. “I take my position in leadership very seriously.”
House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy also expressed support for Cheney during a news conference.
“We’re honored to have her as conference chair, and she does an amazing job,” he said.
During the conference meeting, Gaetz and Massie complained about Cheney supporting a primary challenge to Massie, the sources said. Jordan, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, listed areas where Cheney has publicly disagreed with the President, pointing to her resistance to Trump’s plan to pull back troops in Germany and Afghanistan.
Roy hit Cheney for supporting Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, and complained that his Democratic opponent has retweeted some of Cheney’s tweets. Politico’s Melanie Zanona first reported details of the discussion.
Cheney later reiterated her position on Fauci.
“At this moment when we’re trying to find every way we can to defeat the virus, when we’re trying to find therapeutics and vaccines, we need all hands on deck, and I can’t imagine anybody better than Dr. Fauci to continue to play that role,” she told reporters.
One source familiar with the conversation emphasized it was not a large “uprising,” but only a handful of members who stood up to criticize Cheney.
“I don’t think it’s a broad indication of where the conference is about her leadership,” the source said.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Cheney has taken a different tone than the President. When Trump claimed he had total authority to lift restrictions governors imposed on their states to limit the spread of the virus, Cheney hit back on Twitter: “The federal government does not have absolute power.”
Cheney also pushed back when Trump was considering ending shutdowns for the sake of the economy in March.
“There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus,” she wrote.
She has publicly differed with Trump on several foreign policy and military matters during his presidency, in recent weeks pushing for answers about the administration’s response to intelligence reporting on potential Russian bounties on American troops.
Cheney defended herself against the criticism during the meeting, two sources who were present said. She noted she is supportive of Trump’s agenda and highlighted the irony of Jordan talking about party unity.
“I look forward to hearing your comments about being a team player when we’re back in the majority,” Cheney said, according to one source familiar with the conversation. Jordan was a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, a group that repeatedly clashed with GOP leadership about the legislative process and federal spending, prior to its current iteration for being some of the President’s most vocal defenders.
Brendan Buck, who was a senior aide to former House Speaker Paul Ryan, said Tuesday that the believes the pushback is because members are “all starting to see that Trump is losing and realize she’s planning a post-Trump world that they don’t like.”
But a House GOP lawmaker who was in the room said some of the criticism was legitimate.
“Jim Jordan destroyed Liz,” said the member, who was not involved in the pile-on.
He told CNN the discussion was “off the chain” and that Republicans haven’t had a conference meeting like that since Rep. John Boehner of Ohio was speaker.
“This was not just, ‘Getting something off my chest.’ This will have lingering effects,” he said, further describing the meeting as “painful.”
Cheney’s criticism of the President often comes without explicit mention of him, usually on Twitter. Despite her public comments rebuking him, Trump has not lashed out at her. Instead, he has repeatedly praised her in public.
But members have taken note of her posture toward the White House, with GOP sources close to the Wyoming Republican telling CNN earlier this month that they believe she could attempt to carve out her own distinctive lane in case Trump loses reelection. She would be able to make the case to her GOP colleagues that she was one of the few who pushed back on the President’s excesses.
Cheney told CNN afterward that members had “a healthy exchange of views” and it is clear “we are all unified in recognizing the danger the country would face if Joe Biden were elected president.”
She said she and Massie are “in a good place. We’ve chatted.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly reflect Brendan Buck is not a CNN contributor.
CNN’s Sunlen Serfaty and Dana Bash contributed to this report.