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Ouster of anti-Trump Cheney from House GOP leadership may deepen party's division

Xinhua | Updated: 2021-05-13 09:12
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Photo taken on April 2, 2021 shows the US Capitol building in Washington, DC, the United States. XINHUA

WASHINGTON -- The ouster of Liz Cheney, a fierce critic of former US President Donald Trump over his narrative of "a stolen election," from House Republican leadership on Wednesday morning, is thought to have underscored Trump's massive and continuing importance in the increasingly divided Republican Party with uncertain consequences.

It marked the first time in recent US memory that a congressional GOP leader was toppled by rank-and-file Republicans in the middle of their term through a formal vote, according to a report by The Hill. As chair of the GOP House Conference, Cheney, also a three-term congresswoman, had been the third-ranking Republican member of the House.

"I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office," Cheney told reporters after the vote, vowing to continue her fight against Trump's baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, which she describes as "The Big Lie."

"We cannot let the former president drag us backward ... If you want leaders who will enable and spread [Trump's] destructive lies, I'm not your person," Cheney said in her opening remarks before the quick voice vote behind closed doors, sources in the room told local media outlets.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a letter to House Republicans this week that removing Cheney from her post was necessary to resolve "internal conflicts" that have distracted and divided Republicans as they focus on winning back the majority in 2022.

"You can't have a conference chair who recites Democrat talking points," Jim Jordan, former chief of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and a close Trump ally, said after the vote, referring to Cheney's refusal to stay quiet about Trump's election fraud claims.

"Liz didn't agree with President Trump's narrative and she was cancelled," said Republican lawmaker Ken Buck, warning that Republicans likely alienated voters who agree with Cheney's criticisms of Trump, or at least her right to air them from a position of leadership.

"The message it sends is if you tell the truth and make it uncomfortable for people, you might lose your position," said Adam Kinzinger, an open Trump critic who joined Cheney and other eight House Republicans in vote to impeach Trump for provoking the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

"In the short term it'll be a hit, obviously, to truth, but in the long term history will judge this as exactly what it was, which was a really dumb move by a party that's trying its best to be irrelevant," Kinzinger said.

Moments after the vote to remove Cheney, New York congresswoman Elise Stefanik, an outspoken Trump defender, sent a letter to her colleagues outlining why she wants to fill the post Cheney left.

Trump released a statement shortly after the ousting of Cheney, calling her a "bitter, horrible human being" and "a talking point for Democrats." The former president endorsed Stefanik earlier this month, describing her as "a far superior choice."

Meanwhile, more than 100 former Republican officials are planning to release a letter on Thursday to call for reforms within their party and even threaten to form a separate group if GOP members do not break away from Trump, according to local media reports.

Republicans must "either reimagine a party dedicated to our founding ideals or else hasten the creation of such an alternative," an NBC News report quoted the letter as saying.

Reuters noted that among the signatories on the letter are former Republican governors Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, as well as former President George W. Bush's transportation secretary, Mary Peters, and a number of former Republican lawmakers.

Reacting to Cheney's removal from House GOP leadership, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that the development was "disturbing."

"Our nation's Capitol was attacked, our democracy was attacked, and six people lost their lives. So it's disturbing to see any leader, regardless of party, being attacked for simply speaking the truth," Psaki said, without naming Cheney.

US President Joe Biden said last week that he could not remember a time when partisan divisions have been so stark, noting the Republican Party is going through what he called a "mini-revolution" while "trying to identify what it stands for."

"They're in the midst of a significant, sort of mini-revolution going on," said Biden.

The GOP's move to oust Cheney was recently precipitated when she greeted Biden at the Capitol and tweeted that Biden won the election fair and square.

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