Rep. Liz Cheney told House Republicans in private on Wednesday that it’s time to reject former President Donald Trump’s big lie that he won the election because failing to do so will “make us complicit in his efforts to unravel our democracy.”
But GOP lawmakers don’t want to hear it.
From the most conservative members to ones in swing districts, a wide range of Republicans either back Trump outright, endorse aspects of his claims or hope the issue will simply go away so they won’t have to weigh in – eager to avoid becoming mincemeat for Trump, who is demanding total loyalty despite his evidence-free argument that the election was rigged.
Many argue more investigation is needed over mail-in voting even though Trump’s own Justice Department determined there was no evidence of widespread fraud, all 50 states certified their elections and the former President and his allies lost in dozens of court cases including before the US Supreme Court. And most blame Cheney – not Trump – for injecting the issue back into the national spotlight.
“No one knows about what happened in the election,” New York Rep. Claudia Tenney, who won one of the tightest races in the country, told CNN after the vote to oust Cheney on Wednesday. “We don’t know if it was stolen or not, (Cheney) doesn’t know, I don’t know, the President doesn’t know. But what I know is we need to fix it.”
And some say that Trump truly won — roundly dismissing his role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
Rep. Jody Hice, a Republican running for secretary of state of Georgia with Trump’s support, said that the former President would have a won his state “if there was a fair election.”
Asked if he believed Trump actually won reelection in 2020, Hice said in an interview: “I believe if it was a fair election, yes. I believe absolutely.”
Indeed, Cheney’s view represents a minority of the House GOP Conference – an uncomfortable reality for House GOP leaders who recognize that relitigating the validity of the 2020 elections is not a winning message heading into the 2022 midterms when control of Congress is at stake. And that was a big reason why Republican leaders were eager to eject Cheney from her No. 3 spot, hoping that pushing her into the rank-and-file would minimize what they viewed are unneeded distractions within their own leadership ranks.
“The vote today was nothing about Liz Cheney’s vote for impeachment or anything else along that line,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told CNN Wednesday. “You have jobs inside leadership and responsibilities, and I think people were just looking at it from the perspective of if you’re the conference chair, you’re the messenger.”
And earlier in the day McCarthy claimed that his members are not questioning the legitimacy of Biden’s victory, even as the GOP leader himself did so after the November election and later joined efforts in Congress and the Supreme Court to throw out Biden’s electoral votes.
“I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election,” McCarthy said outside the White House when asked about Cheney’s likely replacement, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York. “I think that is all over with sitting here with the President today.”
Yet Stefanik herself voted to overturn Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania and signed onto a Texas lawsuit aiming to overturn the electoral results across a number of battleground states that the Democrat won. And in recent days, Stefanik has reaffirmed her support for an effort by Republicans in Arizona to cast doubt and review Biden’s win, while also doubling down on Wednesday when asked about her dubious claim of 140,000 unauthorized votes being cast in Georgia.
“I stand by my statement that there are serious issues related to election irregularities in the state of Georgia, as well as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin,” Stefanik told reporters.
But when pressed if she still believes that those votes were illegitimate, she would only say: “I think there are questions that are important for the American people to hear answers to.”
Some Republicans did push back against Trump’s claims, but they amount to a rarity among the House GOP.
“I haven’t seen any evidence that’s convincing,” said Rep. Ken Buck, a conservative Colorado Republican who backed Cheney staying in the post, when asked about the fraud claims.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who has been sharply critical of his leadership team and has been vocal in his support of Cheney, said “not much” when asked how much confidence he has in McCarthy right now.
“Not if that election was today,” Kinzinger told CNN when asked if he would support McCarthy for speaker in the next Congress. “I can never say what’ll happen in the future but today I wouldn’t.”
Yet McCarthy and Stefanik have wide support within the conference, many of whom are in line with the notion that there was something amiss last November with the influx in mail-in voting that saw a sharp uptick during the coronavirus pandemic.
Now Stefanik is on track to lead a conference that is clearly in line with those views.
“I think there were a lot of anomalies in the election,” said Rep. Bill Johnson, an Ohio Republican. “And I think there was clear evidence of some states that violated their own state election laws and their Constitution – thereby the federal Constitution.”
Republicans won’t call Biden’s win ‘legitimate’
Yet efforts to challenge state election rules fell flat in the courts, though that fact has yet to convince a wide swath of House Republicans.
“I’ve said all along that we should look into the concerns millions of Americans have, including millions of Democrats have, about the election; I’ve never said it was stolen or anything like that. I just said why not investigate?” said Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan when asked about Cheney’s comments.
But many sidestepped when asked if Biden’s victory amounted to a legitimate one.
“Yeah he’s the President, I’ve said that all along,” Jordan said when asked if Biden’s win was legitimate. Asked again if he thought Biden won legitimately, Jordan added: “Like, our system, the way it works, he’s the President. We know he’s the President. Look at what the last four months have been like.”
Asked a third time if Biden were legitimately elected, Jordan added: “I do think we should look at the election results but, yeah, he’s the President of the United States, I’ve said that all along.”
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Rep. Buddy Carter, a Georgia Republican who is considering a Senate bid, said this when asked if he’s accepted the notion that Biden won legitimately: “I have accepted that he won. I think that there were irregularities.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, said that while he “never had any doubt” Biden would win after the polls closed and that Trump and others should move on from the election dispute, he didn’t say outright that Biden won legitimately won asked multiple times.
“I believe that we should have stuck to the Constitution, no state without their legislature should have made changes in how they were sending out ballots,” Issa said. Asked again if he thought Biden’s win was legitimate, Issa added: “He won the Electoral College vote. And where there are irregularities and multiple states? Yes. Did he make those irregularities? No.”
Issa would not say if Trump was responsible for the riot at the Capitol aimed at stopping certification of Biden’s win.
“I’m not here to talk about the past,” Issa said.
House Republicans, though, are clearly irritated that Cheney has injected these questions back into the fray.
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a freshman from New York, rebuffed Cheney’s demands that Republicans should push back on Trump’s election lies.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” Malliotakis said. “You cannot be chair when you disagree with the opinions of the vast majority of the conference. … I want to talk about what’s in the best interest of moving this country forward. … That’s what I want to talk about. You guys want to keep talking about Donald Trump.”
The freshman began to walk away when asked if she believes the election was indeed stolen from Trump, as the former President continually claims. “Are we still talking about this?” Malliotakis said.
But some Republicans do plan to keep a focus on the elections were conducted.
Tenney, the New York Republican, said she and 28 other Republicans have formed “an election integrity caucus” and she asked Cheney to join them.
“I’ve tried to engage her on what’s happening in my election integrity (caucus), she doesn’t want to talk about it,” Tenney said.
Tenney said she sent Cheney a “nice message” over text but got pushback from her colleague over the election matter. “I got sort of a bloody step back.”
CNN’s Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.