In late June, Liz Cheney, the conservative congresswoman from Wyoming, visited the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., to deliver a speech on the future of the Republican Party. Cheney had been to the Reagan Library several times before. She twice interviewed her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, on stage to promote books they co-wrote; When a friend pointed out a framed photo of his father speaking at the library, Cheney noticed that it had been cropped. Since the start of 2021, she has been her party’s most vocal critic of Donald Trump, a position that has seen her rejected for leadership by the House Republican Caucus and officially expelled by her party in Wyoming. She is now traveling with an armed Capitol Police guard, due to threats against her. The atmosphere at the Reagan Library was tense enough that an organization official felt compelled to mention, while introducing Cheney, that he had learned that some of his opponents intended to disrupt the event.
Even still, Cheney took the stage to a round of applause. The night before, she had led an explosive Jan. 6 select committee hearing, in which 26-year-old former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson gave a gripping account of Trump’s inner circle. the day of the assault on the Capitol. — the president’s efforts to join the crowd and his aides’ growing alarm at his behavior. “His superiors, men several years older – a number of them hide behind executive privilege, anonymity and intimidation, but his bravery and patriotism yesterday was awe-inspiring to behold,” Cheney said. to the public. “To young women watching tonight, these days, for the most part, men run the world, and it’s really not going so well.”
Cheney’s titular role on the select committee is vice-chair, but she, more than any other member, has defined the issues in the investigation. From the dais, where she is often enlisted to deliver opening and closing remarks, sometimes speaking directly to Republicans about the deterioration of her own party, she referred to what political writer Katherine Miller has called a “granite singularity” – a presentation so emotionally neutral that it invites viewers to see it less as a political actor and more as a tool of law. When I spoke with some of Cheney’s select committee colleagues, they gave him credit for deflating conservative efforts to expose the hearings as a partisan exercise. One Democrat pointed to her voting record: She sided with Trump about ninety-three percent of the time. No one could call her a RINO.
Cheney also helped shape an unmistakable feature of the Jan. 6 committee: a series of hearings backed almost exclusively by Democrats became on compromises and abdications by Republican Party members. For months, staff often scheduled multiple depositions a day, and Cheney was frequently present in the room. (“I’m sure the staff sees her as a bit of a control freak,” a committee source told me.) Cheney pushed for more Republican witnesses, and was on a first-name basis with some of the key figures in the insurrection. , including the president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. She intuitively understood how power flowed in the Trump White House. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland congressman and member of the select committee, told me that Cheney pointed out how many people in the crowd probably believed the Big Lie, and how Trump and others close to him did not. “Liz is fluent in Republican, it’s her native language,” Raskin said. “She really helped me decode the ideological undercurrents informing all the different sectors of the attack.”
If Cheney made the Republican world more accessible to the committee, she also made the committee more accessible to Republicans. “Because some of these Republican witnesses, you know, they don’t feel comfortable coming forward to speak with the Democrats on the committee,” committee member and Democratic congresswoman Zoe Lofgren told me. California. “They wanted to be introduced to the Republicans on the committee first, and Liz agreed to play that important role.” Hutchinson, for example, first contacted the committee through Cheney. “Liz was key with Cassidy Hutchinson,” Lofgren said.
Cheney’s family history is more closely tied to the Republican Party than that of any other active politician. The irony that she is now the most visible face of what is primarily a Democratic initiative is not lost on anyone. During one of the committee hearings, someone noticed that Cheney’s nameplate read “Ms. Cheney,” while Virginia Democrat Elaine Luria read “Mrs. Luria. Why the gap? Cheney, a longtime social conservative, said, sarcastically, “Because I’m a consummate feminist.” Yet his contempt for some of his fellow Party members became apparent during the proceedings. During a House vote to compel Steve Bannon to testify before the Jan. 6 committee, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, approached Raskin and Cheney, who were sitting together, and shouted at them: “You are a joke! Why don’t you focus on something that really matters to the American people? Cheney yelled back, “You are a joke.”
For Cheney, this period of political life is not just about Trump; it’s about the decisions Republicans made to defend him. At the Reagan Library, she told the audience, “To say that the threat posed by Donald Trump can be ignored is to deny the responsibility that every citizen — every one of us — has to perpetuate the Republic. Raskin told me, “He’s someone who experiences this not just as a radical betrayal of the country and the Constitution, but a major breakdown in ethics in his own party.”
The praise for Cheney that I heard from Democrats on the committee was so outlandish that it seemed like a way to bring out deeper frustrations with how the government normally gets stuck. Lofgren told me that she and Cheney joked that they “look forward to the day when we can start disagreeing about politics again.” Raskin told me, somewhat wistfully, that he kept wondering what it would be like to have bipartisan committees on climate change and gun violence that functioned like this. Luria said, “Personally, and maybe I’m too close to it, but I would look to Liz Cheney as someone who saved American democracy. She played a role that no one else was willing to play.
Cheney hadn’t lived in Wyoming since college before returning, in 2012, to make a brief run for the Senate. She won a House seat in 2016, the year the Republican Party began to define itself around Trump. Cheney did not rush to his faction. Former Rep. Barbara Comstock, a friend of Cheney’s, recalled that in early 2017, Trump loyalist Jim Jordan asked Cheney to join the Freedom Caucus, pointing out that they only had one one wife and they could use another. “Dude, is that your pitch?” Cheney had answered.
Nonetheless, she often sided with Trump. Many of his allies have become Never Trumpers; Cheney adapted, focusing on the enemies she shared with the president. After the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy,” Cheney released a statement saying, “Hillary’s actions were much worse.” She said anti-Trump texts sent by FBI agents ‘may well be treason’; has frequently castigated leftists such as Ilhan Omar (“an anti-Semitic socialist who slanders American troops”) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“do us all a favor and spend a few minutes learning real history”); and delivered typically compact versions of GOP talking points, such as when, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” she called Democrats “the party of anti-Semitism, the party of infanticide, the party of socialism.” ”.
A supposed mystery about Cheney: If she’s so horrified by Trump’s war on democracy, why did she have to wait until after the November 2020 election to notice? There were signs that Cheney’s loyalty to the president was waning early that year, when she publicly praised Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, and Alex Vindman, a member of the National Security Council. , who had both testified against Trump in his first impeachment trial. But she voted against impeachment. Although friends say Cheney has great respect for Anthony Fauci, because his father had worked with him on bioterrorism policy in the Bush years, and Liz and Dick Cheney were disgusted by the administration’s rejection of the pandemic science, she limited her public criticism of Trump covid Politics. The filing suggests Cheney ultimately turned on Trump when she lost faith in the Republican Party to handle him. In his first public statements exposing the Big Lie, in November 2020, Cheney did not address Trump but Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy. A turning point came on January 28, 2021, when McCarthy visited Trump at Mar-a-Lago. Cheney had thought that the day after January 6 the Party would indeed shun the ex-president, but McCarthy’s visit convinced her that was not true. As the house was evacuated on January 6, Jordan offered his hand to Cheney to help him out of the driveway. She slapped him. “Damn you did that,” she said.
The most important question about Cheney is this: why did so few of her colleagues join her? Right now, the Republican Party seems trapped in a near-terminal risk aversion pattern. For half a decade, most of its elected members have been unable to publicly denounce a president who disgusts and frightens many in private. How much is a seat in Congress worth to them? “You can do a lot of things that you do in Congress in other ways,” Comstock told me. A moderate Republican, Comstock represented Northern Virginia in the House until 2018, when she lost her seat in the anti-Trump wave. When we spoke, she had just returned from a diplomatic trip to South Korea. “Why are so many members of Congress selling their souls? ” she says. “Isn’t there anything else they can do to make a hundred and seventy-four thousand dollars a year?”