Liz Cheney ousted from GOP leadership role over Trump criticism

By Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner, Melissa Mahtani, Veronica Rocha and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 11:02 a.m. ET, May 13, 2021
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10:26 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Majority Whip Dick Durbin calls Cheney ousting "an act of pure cowardice"

From CNN's Ali Zaslav

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democratic Whip Sen. Dick Durbin says the ousting of Rep. Liz Cheney from House GOP leadership this morning was “an act of pure cowardice.”

“What a sad day for the American Republican Party,” he said. “It was an act of pure cowardice for them to remove her from leadership, and then to do it by a secret voice vote. That just tells the whole story as far as I am concerned. Donald Trump owns the soul of the Republican Party of America, and it was proved today in the House of Representatives.”
10:08 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Despite being booed for Trump comments, Cheney got standing ovation at end of her remarks, one Republican says

From CNN's Daniella Diaz 

Rep. Ken Buck, the lone Republican in the House chamber last night when Cheney spoke, said that at this morning's meeting, Cheney received a “standing ovation” at the end of her prayer. 

Buck voted in support of Cheney this morning and does not support Stefanik.

As reported earlier, Cheney was initially booed when she warned the caucus about the effect former president Donald Trump is having on the party, as she said “We cannot let the former president drag us backward and make us complicit in his efforts to unravel our democracy. Down that path lies our destruction, and potentially the destruction of our country.”

10:09 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Cheney still remains in Congress despite being ousted from leadership 

Analysis from CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

It's important to note that Rep. Liz Cheney will still be a Republican and will still be in Congress despite today's vote to oust her from Republican leadership.

House Republicans, to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's point, are respectful of the fact that Wyoming's voters elected Cheney as their representative.

They'll get the chance to elect Cheney or someone else in 2022 at the midterm election. It seems likely that Cheney will face a primary challenge if she decides to run again. (Read more here about the view from Wyoming, where a lot of Republicans seem to believe Trump won the election.)

House Republicans, who ousted Cheney by voice vote behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, are expected to replace her with New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who has a less conservative voting record than Cheney but has emerged as one of Trump's top defenders. Cheney did not back down in a speech before the voice vote.

CNN's Alex Rogers contributed reporting to this post.

9:54 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Moments after vote to remove Cheney, Stefanik sends letter to GOP about replacing her

From CNN's Annie Grayer and Ryan Nobles

On the heels of Rep. Liz Cheney’s ousting from her leadership post, Rep. Elise Stefanik is already out with a letter to her colleagues outlining why she wants to fill the post. 

House Republicans, who ousted Cheney by voice vote behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, are expected to replace her with Stefanik.

“This week, I have had hundreds of productive and informative conversations with Members from all corners of our Conference. Today I humbly ask to earn your vote for House Republican Conference Chair to unify our message as a team and win the Majority in 2022,” Stefanik writes.

Stefanik has been working the phones for days trying to convince members to back her and is the only candidate in the race, despite growing concerns from more conservative members of the caucus who have raised issues with her voting record.

10:07 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Trump reacts to Cheney's ousting and calls her a "horrible human being"

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Former President Trump just released a statement on the ousting of Rep. Liz Cheney from House Republican leader, calling her a "bitter, horrible human being."

His full statement says:

"Liz Cheney is a bitter, horrible human being. I watched her yesterday and realized how bad she is for the Republican Party. She has no personality or anything good having to do with politics or our Country. She is a talking point for Democrats, whether that means the Border, the gas lines, inflation, or destroying our economy. She is a warmonger whose family stupidly pushed us into the never-ending Middle East Disaster, draining our wealth and depleting our Great Military, the worst decision in our Country’s history. I look forward to soon watching her as a Paid Contributor on CNN or MSDNC!"

Cheney was ousted for her vote to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and her continued criticism of him.

11:02 a.m. ET, May 13, 2021

Key things to know about Rep. Elise Stefanik, Liz Cheney's possible replacement

From CNN's Clare Foran and Lauren Fox

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik now appears poised to become the next House Republican conference chair after the party united against Rep. Liz Cheney for calling out former President Trump's Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. Cheney lost lost her post in the House Republican leadership this morning.

Stefanik's rise within the party and embrace of Trump in recent years represents an evolution that mirrors that of her party, which coalesced behind Trump and remains loyal to him even with the former President no longer in office and after he attempted to overturn the last presidential election and incited a deadly attack on the US Capitol.

In 2016, Stefanik backed Trump as the party's presidential nominee, but worked to portray herself as an independent voice for her district.

She aligned herself at the time with House Speaker Paul Ryan, another Republican leader who carefully tiptoed around Trump's more outlandish comments and spoke out occasionally when he believed the President crossed the line.

In those early years, Stefanik largely kept out of the Trump fray, focusing instead on work on the Armed Services and Intelligence committees, though she broke with Trump over some key priorities, including his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord and the 2017 GOP tax bill.

When House Democrats moved to impeach Trump for the first time in 2019, however, Stefanik emerged as one of the President's most outspoken defenders, earning Trump's praise in the process with the President calling her "a new Republican star."

Amid Trump's false claims over voter fraud and the 2020 election, Stefanik supported an objection during the Electoral College vote count in Congress held to certify President Joe Biden's win. She also signed on in support of an amicus brief backing a lawsuit from Texas to the Supreme Court that sought to overturn the results of the election in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia.

Now, Stefanik has Trump's backing to replace Cheney with the former President saying that she "is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement for GOP Conference Chair."

Read more about her career here.

9:51 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Here are the next steps to replace Cheney

From CNN's Lauren Fox

In this November 2019 file photo, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., listens during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.
In this November 2019 file photo, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., listens during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Andrew Harnik/AP

Two members of the House Freedom caucus tell CNN that the group will host a chat with Rep. Elise Stefanik at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Stefanik faces some headwinds among House Conservatives who argue this is moving too quickly. Members of the caucus have concerns Stefanik doesn’t actually support key GOP positions.

Famously, Stefanik voted against the tax bill, which was Trump’s signature legislative accomplishment.

9:47 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

"In the end, truth will prevail," former senator says as Cheney is ousted from leadership

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said Liz Cheney was removed from her leadership position for "speaking the truth."

He added, "In the end, truth will prevail."

Some context: While he served in the Senate, Flake was one of the President’s most vocal Republican critics, despite being a staunch conservative who almost always voted with the GOP majority. Rather than running what was likely to be a losing reelection battle, Flake opted to retire.

Read the tweet:

9:38 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Cheney was booed in the room when she criticized Trump

From CNN's Annie Grayer

When Rep. Liz Cheney criticized former President Trump in her opening remarks this morning, she was booed, according to a member in the room.

Here's what Cheney said about Trump: 

“We cannot let the former president drag us backward and make us complicit in his efforts to unravel our democracy. Down that path lies our destruction, and potentially the destruction of our country.”