Republican Rep. Liz Cheney is on track to lose her Wyoming primary. Here's how she's chasing a bigger win




  • In Politics
  • 2022-08-14 11:15:11Z
  • By USA TODAY

WASHINGTON-On the afternoon of June 28, Rep. Liz Cheney looked into a crowded hearing room and saw only Cassidy Hutchinson.

It was the highly anticipated sixth day of the Jan. 6 committee's revelatory hearings, and Hutchinson was the panel's bombshell witness. Under oath, she testified that former President Donald Trump knew there was an armed mob at his "Stop the Steal" rally that preceded the violent Capitol attack.

The 26-year-old former White House aide stood out in her white blazer - but also stood apart from many of the men in her party, who had not themselves stepped up to testify.

"I was sitting on the dais, looking out and seeing Hutchinson by herself," Cheney said to USA TODAY.

Miss Day 6 of the Jan. 6 hearing?: Trump knew mob was armed and dangerous, bombshell witness says

In some ways, Cheney was by herself, too.

In May, she was ousted from her number three House GOP leadership spot after she criticized Trump and voted to impeach him after the Capitol attack. Since then she's effectively been estranged from much of her party and is now one of only two Republicans on the House Jan. 6 committee.

On Tuesday, her strained relationship with her party will come to a head, when Cheney faces her toughest race yet in Wyoming, challenged by the Trump-backed Harriet Hageman, who is favored to win.

"As soon as I voted to impeach, I knew I'd be in this position," Cheney said. "I clearly put my oath of office above political calculations. What surprises me is there are so few who have done that."

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Women with 'courage and strength'

But when she's on that dais, looking out at other witnesses, she's not as alone.

Cheney sees Sarah Matthews, a former deputy White House press secretary; Wandrea ArShaye Moss and Ruby Freeman, the mother and daughter who served as election workers in Fulton County, Georgia; and Caroline Edwards, a Capitol Police officer who suffered a traumatic brain injury during the attack.

"I just think about how moved and impressed I am with the young women who have testified," she said.

Those witnesses stand in "stark contrast to men who are their seniors and hiding behind executive privilege." Cheney has wanted former White House lawyer Pat Cipollone to testify during a hearing, as well as former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former Vice President Mike Pence. Cipollone testified privately to the committee, but Meadows and Pence have not.

The women, in contrast, have testified, even under difficult circumstances. Cheney said she has been most moved by "their courage and strength, their determination to do what's right."

"It's been an honor, and they're teaching me so much and the country so much."

But Cheney is teaching them something, too.

'She doesn't walk away from a tough fight'

Standing with Democrats investigating Trump will almost certainly cost her a Wyoming seat in Congress.

As the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Liz Cheney knows women don't always have the same kinds of protections as men in politics, especially the young women risking their lives and careers to come forward.

More: Jan. 6 committee members are receiving rising threats of violence, GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger says

Cheney's actions stand in contrast to many of the men leading her party - many of whom were shown on video asking for help during the attack and assigning blame to the former president for inciting violence, only to fall in line shortly thereafter to protect their political futures.

"She doesn't walk away from a tough fight," said Barbara Comstock, a former Republican congresswoman from Virginia and Cheney's close friend for more than 20 years. "She does what's right even when it's tough. She's not a fair-weather friend of the Constitution."

Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., are the only two Republicans to buck their party and serve on the Jan. 6 committee in the face of threats to their physical safety. She faced another threat last week after the FBI searched Trump's Mar-a-Lago for highly classified documents, the first time a search warrant has ever been executed on a former president's residence.

"Well, I'll be dead-everyone, remember McConnell, Cheney, and Pence are the enemy," the account "@rickywshifferjr" posted on Trump's social media platform Tuesday. Two days later an Ohio man named Ricky Shiffer was fatally shot by police after he tried to enter the FBI's Cincinnati office with weapons.

'Kill FBI on sight': Truth Social reveals the final days of the Cincinnati attacker

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Some Republican lawmakers who publicly support Trump privately say they are afraid of what happens if they don't, according to Rick Wilson, a political strategist and co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. They are physically afraid of being harmed.

"Liz Cheney said screw it, I'm going to speak the truth," Wilson said.

Losing a seat, making a difference?

Though she will likely lose a House seat on Tuesday to a Trump-backed challenger, she actually has the power to attract women back to the Republican Party who Trump lost, according to Republican strategist Susan Del Percio.

"It gets lost in the talk about how Liz Cheney will probably lose a seat, but I would argue she's made such a tremendous difference," Del Percio said. "Even if you lose a seat, you can have a tremendous impact on government, society and change. You can have a voice and be strong. You can stand on principle and can still make a difference."

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Women with center-right political leanings are noticing.

Nina Bishop, a 57-year-old Republican centrist in Elkton, Maryland, said she would never vote for Trump again.

She would've voted for former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie if he was on the presidential ballot in 2020. She'd like to see Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on the next presidential ballot because "he doesn't play party games."

The Jan. 6 committee has demonstrated Cheney doesn't follow her party on everything, which has caused some - including Trump - to label her a RINO, or Republican in name only.

"She has the right to find out the truth for herself," Bishop said. "It's a good thing to question. I have no problem with her asking questions."

Bishop, who has agreed with both parties at times, appreciates an independent streak.

Analysts say Cheney is filling a Republican leadership gap in Congress.

"The men aren't leading the party. The men are following Donald Trump," Del Percio said.

Trump has too much of an "iron grip" on the Republican Party for Cheney to change it, but her leadership on the Jan. 6 committee "has given a lot of center-right people hope not for a revived party, but for real leadership," Wilson said.

In the last Jan. 6 committee hearing on July 21, Cheney taught a history lesson. She explained the hearing room on that night was the same room where, in 1918, the Committee on Women's Suffrage convened to discuss and debate whether women should be granted the right to vote.

"This room is full of history, and we on this committee know we have a solemn obligation not to idly squander what so many Americans have fought and died for," Cheney said.

She quoted Margaret Thatcher, the former U.K. prime minister and an ally to former U.S. Republican President Ronald Reagan, who in 1976 said, "Let it never be said that the dedication of those who love freedom is less than the determination of those who would destroy it."

"Let me assure every one of you this, our committee understands the gravity of this moment, the consequences for our nation," Cheney said.

A deeper look: An apologetic rioter had a moment during a Jan. 6 hearing. How should we feel about that?

The lead prosecutor

Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, hugs vice chair Rep.
Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, hugs vice chair Rep.  

Throughout the first eight hearings this year, Cheney has embraced her role as vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee and fashioned it into that of a lead prosecutor, mounting a case against Trump.

It's a role for which Cheney is uniquely qualified. Her deep ties as a member of a powerful political family ensured she knew how Washington works, from the White House down.

She was an integral player in bringing Hutchinson's testimony to the forefront.

Hutchinson reached out to Alyssa Farah Griffin, former assistant to the president. Farah Griffin reached out to Comstock, and Comstock directed her to Cheney.

"The committee hearings wouldn't have been as successful without Liz. Cassidy felt comfortable to talk to Liz, not just Democrats on the panel," Comstock said.

Cheney has been pivotal in moving the probe forward. After the Hutchinson testimony, she was able to get former White House lawyer Pat Cipollone to the table.

Cheney, and her cadre of young Republican women in white blazers, have arguably played the biggest role in advancing the investigation.

Comstock, who is also a lawyer and lobbyist, compared Cheney's committee work to Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican and the first woman to serve in both chambers of Congress. She was the first to criticize Joseph McCarthy in 1950 and warned fellow Republicans: "It is high time that we all stopped being tools and victims of totalitarian techniques-techniques that, if continued here unchecked, will surely end what we have come to cherish as the American way of life."

Trump is "a cancer" working itself through the body politic and Cheney is committed to getting him out of the system, Comstock said.

DOJ probe: Donald Trump's legal team in contact with Justice Dept. officials in Jan. 6 inquiry

Unprecedented: Donald Trump's scandals are unique in history. Here's how.

The future

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The panel's hearings have resulted in a bevy of evidence and "a tremendous amount of witness testimony" that has come before the committee - so much that the panel will resume hearings in September, Cheney said.

The committee work will last several months beyond the Wyoming primary, and so will her legacy, analysts said.

She was questioned last month during an ABC interview about whether she is considering a presidential run, and Cheney said she hadn't made a decision. She would consider it "down the road" based on what is "right for the country."

Former Congressman Joe Walsh, who left the Republican Party because of Trumpism, doesn't see room in the Republican Party anymore for people like him, Kinzinger or Cheney. He doesn't think there are enough moderates to defeat Trump in a primary.

But Cheney has a future, Walsh said.

"Liz is legacy and a big enough name and can do whatever she wants," he said. "Personally I think she's a hero. Liz knew she was pretty much kissing her future in the party goodbye. The easiest thing to do is keep your mouth shut. She stood up in the public square and opposed Trump."

Cheney's future can be anything she wants it to be, Comstock said, mostly because she's on the right side of history.

Giving up the No. 3 spot in the House Republicans is not a big deal when you can sleep better at night, she said.

"She's focused on the long term and being a person of character who fights for what's right," Comstock said.

Mar-a-Lago search: GOP Rep. Liz Cheney criticizes Republicans 'attacking the integrity of the FBI'

Candy Woodall is a Congress reporter for USA TODAY. She can be reached at cwoodall@usatoday.com or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: GOP Rep. Liz Cheney facing tight Wyoming Republican primary

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