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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8:54 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

How a vote on Liz Cheney's leadership post could unfold

From CNN's Alex Rogers and Manu Raju

Rep. Liz Cheney departs after a House vote at the US Capitol on Tuesday, May 11.
Rep. Liz Cheney departs after a House vote at the US Capitol on Tuesday, May 11. Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney's repeated rebuttals of former President Trump's lies that the 2020 election was stolen from him has put her in a precarious position within the Republican Party.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is telling his Republican House colleagues to "anticipate" a vote on Wednesday regarding the current state of the House GOP Conference Chair position, which is expected to end with Liz Cheney being removed from her leadership role.

Cheney has no intention of stepping aside as House Republican conference chair, two people familiar with the matter tell CNN. This means that if she's ousted, it will have to be done through a conference vote.

Here's how that could happen:

Leadership can singled-handedly call for a vote: McCarthy has the power to call for a quick vote that would effectively seek Cheney's removal from his leadership team. A vote to oust Cheney from her leadership job seems all but certain and could happen as soon as May 12, according to several senior Republican members and aides. It can be approved by a simple majority of the full House GOP Conference.

Alternatively, members can petition for a vote: If McCarthy doesn't call for a vote, another Republican could. But there are also special procedures in place to ultimately force another vote, which could take more time. One path requires 20% of the House GOP conference — 43 members — to submit a petition for a special meeting. They would then schedule that meeting within 10 "legislative" days, or days they're in session in the nation's capital.

At the special meeting, the members can then bring up a resolution to remove Cheney. If two-thirds of the conference — 142 members — want, they can immediately vote. Otherwise, the petition would be referred to a committee that can then either report the petition to the conference for a full vote or kill the resolution.

Any leadership vote is a secret ballot cast behind closed doors.

Read more here.

8:44 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Cheney vows not to remain silent on Trump ahead of expected vote to remove her

From CNN's Jeremy Herb

House TV
House TV

Rep. Liz Cheney vowed Tuesday not to remain silent as former President Trump continues to spread lies that the election was stolen from him, arguing she had a constitutional duty to protect against a threat “America has never seen before” ahead of an expected vote to oust Cheney from House Republican leadership on Wednesday.

The Wyoming Republican struck a defiant tone on Tuesday evening ahead of the vote that is all but assured to end in her removal as Republican conference chair over her continued criticisms of Trump, warning that ignoring Trump’s lies embolden him and threaten democracy.

“We must speak the truth. Our election was not stolen. And America has not failed,” Cheney said.

“Every one of us who has sworn the oath must act to prevent the unraveling of our democracy. This is not about policy. This is not about partisanship. This is about our duty as Americans. Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar,” Cheney said. “I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former President’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”

The House Republican conference is expected to vote to remove Cheney from her leadership role on Wednesday over her opposition to Trump. The vote comes after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy soured on Cheney in recent weeks while she was vocal in her criticisms of Trump for continuing to lie about the election.

McCarthy has backed Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York to replace Cheney as conference chair, and she currently faces no opposition for the position.

Cheney argued on the floor that Trump’s lies about the election have misled millions of Americas, undermining the democratic process and threatening more violence beyond the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

“Today we face a threat America has never seen before,” Cheney said. “A former president, who provoked a violent attack on this Capitol in an effort to steal the election, has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him. He risks inciting further violence.”

Cheney argued she is a conservative, in a swipe at Trump’s congressional allies who have been pushing for her ouster since her January vote to impeach Trump.

“I am a conservative Republican, and the most conservative of conservative principles is reverence for the rule of law,” she said. “The election is over. That is the rule of law. That is our constitutional process. Those who refuse to accept the rulings of our courts are at war with the Constitution.”

When Cheney walked out to the House floor Tuesday, the Republican lawmakers cleared out. Republican Rep. Ken Buck was the only member watching Cheney speak in person.

CNN's Annie Grayer contributed to this report.

8:44 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Biden will meet today with the top 4 GOP and Democratic leaders of the Senate and House

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

President Biden speaks from the East Room off the White House on May 10.
President Biden speaks from the East Room off the White House on May 10. Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg/Getty Images

As tensions within the Republican Party continue to mount on Capitol Hill, President Biden will meet today with bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that Biden will approach his upcoming meeting with congressional leadership on both sides of the aisle by focusing on potential areas of consensus.

Asked what would be on the agenda for today's meeting, Psaki said, “There are a lot of ways to approach a meeting like this, as you know. And the way the President is thinking about it is that — you could spend the entire meeting talking about areas of disagreement. There’s no shortage of those. Or you could spend it seeking opportunity for common ground. And he is going to choose the latter”

“His hope is that this can be a discussion about where we can find common agreement, where there is an opportunity to work together moving forward. There has been a discussion about infrastructure, investing in infrastructure, the importance of modernizing infrastructure. There’s been different proposals out there,” she added.

Some areas of shared concern, Psaki said, are semiconductor chip shortages and workforce competitiveness.

“I know that we expect that members will come with different items on their agenda and the President just looks forward to having a constructive meeting because he knows that there are common values among Americans and that if we just spend all of our time competing and snipping at each other we can’t help address the challenges we’re all facing,” Psaki said.

She did not say whether the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would be brought up during Wednesday’s meeting with Congressional leadership, telling reporters, “I expect that once the meeting concludes we’ll give you a sense of what the topics are that ended up coming up in the meeting.”

Pressed on why it’s taken so long for Biden to meet with McCarthy and hold a meeting with Congressional leadership altogether, Psaki pointed to the President’s frequent engagement with other members of both political parties.

“He did talk to him around the joint address, but the President also knows from being in the Senate for 36 years you’re going to work with and have discussions with a range of members. Hence, we have the meeting on Thursday to do just that,” Psaki said, referring to a Thursday meeting with Republicans on infrastructure. 

8:34 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Here's why Republicans want to oust Cheney from her leadership role

Analysis from CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has endorsed Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New Yorker who is more moderate on policy as Republicans go but has solidified her bona fides by aiding and abetting former President Trump's conspiracy theories.

On the one hand, this makes complete sense. If the vast majority of the party is either pushing or willing to tolerate the false idea that the election was stolen from Trump, despite all the evidence to the contrary, their leaders should share those views.

McCarthy argues that members can have whatever views they want and their constituents will tolerate. But Cheney's leadership job requires her to unite the party against Democrats.

"Any member can take whatever position they believe in," McCarthy told Fox News over the weekend. "The voters vote on the individuals and they make that. What we're talking about is a position in leadership."

And the party leaders need to be united against Democrats, he said, arguing the other party has a socialist agenda for the country.

8:28 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

A look back at Liz Cheney's political career

From CNN's Christopher Hickey

Cheney talks to people at the Senior Citizens Center in Gillette, Wyoming, in February 2016. Earlier in the day, she announced that she was running for Congress.
Cheney talks to people at the Senior Citizens Center in Gillette, Wyoming, in February 2016. Earlier in the day, she announced that she was running for Congress. Ed Glazar/Gillette News Record/AP

The House Republican Conference is expected to vote Wednesday morning to replace Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney as GOP conference chair. It's a dramatic turnaround for the conservative congresswoman, who was elected to the position less than three years ago at the encouragement of Republican leadership.

Despite Cheney voting in line with former President Trump's agenda 92.9% of the time, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has said he supports replacing her with New York Rep. Elise Stefanik. After the Jan. 6 insurrection, Cheney voted to impeach Trump while Stefanik voted against.

The events of the past few months stand in stark contrast to Cheney's decades-long career where she served the GOP in roles that ranged from the Department of State to guest hosting on Fox News.

Here's a timeline of key moments from Cheney's career:

8:21 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Here's a reminder of what sparked the push to remove Cheney from her GOP leadership role

Analysis from CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

Cheney heads to the House floor to cast a vote at the US Capitol in February 2021. Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Capitol insurrection.
Cheney heads to the House floor to cast a vote at the US Capitol in February 2021. Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Capitol insurrection. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The acts for which Rep. Liz Cheney is being threatened with removal from the Republican leadership are twofold.

First, she voted to impeach Trump. Along with nine other House Republicans, Cheney sided with Democrats and voted to impeach Trump earlier this year after he fomented the storming of the Capitol and rebellion against the Electoral College.

She said he, "summoned this mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack."

"There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution," Cheney said.

But Cheney was the only member of the House GOP leadership to vote for impeachment.

This in itself was not enough to cost her the leadership position. In the shocked aftermath of the storming of the Capitol she maintained the support of House GOP leader, Kevin McCarthy, and easily survived an earlier secret ballot effort to oust her.

Then, she wouldn't be quiet about it. Rather than show penance for her vote, and unlike other GOP leaders in Congress, Cheney has refused to either buy into the false reality that the election was stolen from Trump or quietly tolerate it.

When Trump pushed it again this month, she called him out

"The 2020 presidential election was not stolen," Cheney tweeted in early May after Trump said it was. "Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system."

What's clear from this episode is that critical thinking — and criticism of Trump — will not be tolerated in the GOP.