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Republicans oust Trump critic Cheney from leadership

By AFP - May 13,2021 - Last updated at May 13,2021

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) walks from her office to the office of Rep. Pete Sessions(R-TX) on Wednesday on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC (AFP photo)

WASHINGTON — House Republicans voted on Wednesday to oust conservative Liz Cheney, a fierce critic of Donald Trump, from her powerful leadership role in a move that solidifies the former US president's grip on the party.

Eighteen months before crucial midterms and three years before the next presidential race, the Republican Party punished one of its own for her refusal to embrace Trump's false claim that Democrats stole the 2020 election.

Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, was removed from her role as the number three House Republican in a closed-door vote by the party's conference.

There were no speeches or fanfare, lawmakers said. In a lightning fast voice vote, Cheney's Republican colleagues offered her up as the latest political sacrifice in the party's alignment with Trump.

Afterwards the Wyoming lawmaker told reporters she did not feel betrayed, but insisted she would continue fighting for conservative principles and against the embrace of a one-term leader who keeps spreading baseless voter fraud falsehoods.

"We cannot be dragged backwards by the very dangerous lies of the former president," Cheney said.

"I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office," she added.

"We must go forward based on truth. We cannot both embrace the big lie and embrace the Constitution."

Republicans argue it is about unity, and that Cheney's relentless Trump bashing has done nothing to bring a fractured party together following a contentious election that left them on the sidelines of power.

But House Republican Adam Kinzinger who, like Cheney, voted to impeach Trump for inciting the deadly US Capitol insurrection January 6, scoffed at the notion that unity -- and not bowing to Trump's voter base -- was the driving force behind Cheney's forced martyrdom.

"I'm all for unity and truth, you know? But truth cannot coexist with lies," Kinzinger said. "You cannot unify with that."

On Tuesday Cheney delivered a defiant speech on the House floor, warning her colleagues of the potential "unraveling of our democracy" as Trump continues to mislead millions of Americans and sow doubt about election integrity.

Trump, who has largely remained in his private Mar-a-Lago club since leaving the White House in January, clapped back in typically abrasive, personal attack.

"Liz Cheney is a bitter, horrible human being," he said in a statement after her ouster.

"She has no personality or anything good having to do with politics or our country."

What next? 

With Republican divisions front and center, President Joe Biden meanwhile courted bipartisanship on Wednesday by hosting his first White House meeting with the four congressional leaders.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and top House Republican Kevin McCarthy and Senate Republican Mitch McConnell joined Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in the Oval Office.

Despite McCarthy overseeing the purge of a fellow leader, Biden signalled his readiness to negotiate with him and other Republicans on key issues such as the White House's massive new infrastructure proposal.

"The bottom line here is we're going to see whether we can reach some consensus on a compromise," Biden said.

But the GOP remained absorbed by the schism over Cheney and Trump.

The former president, McCarthy and number two Steve Scalise have all endorsed a young moderate-turned-Trumpist, Elise Stefanik, as Cheney's replacement.

Stefanik does not yet have serious competition for the post, and the endorsements make her the clear frontrunner.

But a vote for a new conference chair is not yet set, as some Republicans worry that Stefanik -- while a fierce Trump defender -- is insufficiently conservative.

Regardless of Cheney's replacement, "it's clear that we need to make a change," McCarthy told members Monday.

"Each day spent relitigating the past is one day less we have to seize the future."

While Cheney, Kinzinger and a handful of other Republicans warn against clinging to the former president, many in the party, including Senator Lindsey Graham, believe it cannot move forward without Trumpism -- whether or not Trump himself remains a force.

Cheney has been a "solid conservative" in Congress, Graham said after the vote, but "in my view, she has taken a position regarding former President Trump which is out of the mainstream of the Republican Party."

Many Republicans lost confidence in Cheney because of what they saw as unhelpful attacks on Trump.

In the end, while she remains a member of Congress, "she just became so much of a distraction," fellow House Republican Byron Donalds said.

 

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