House Republicans vote to keep Liz Cheney in leadership after she defends her impeachment vote
Posted February 3, 2021 2:41 p.m. EST
Updated February 3, 2021 9:25 p.m. EST
CNN — House Republicans voted Wednesday night that Rep. Liz Cheney should keep her post in House GOP leadership after she defended her support for impeachment as a vote of conscience during a contentious closed-door GOP conference meeting.
The vote took place after some Republicans argued that Cheney should be removed from leadership after voting to impeach then-President Donald Trump for inciting an insurrection at the Capitol. In the end, however, Cheney prevailed by a wide margin. The vote was 145 to keep her in her position as House Republican Conference chair, and 61 to remove her, plus one member who voted present, according to several people in the room.
The outcome leaves the House GOP leadership structure intact and averts a major upheaval within the Republican conference, after weeks of criticism and attacks aimed at Cheney ,including from some of her Republican colleagues and Trump.
Earlier in the evening, Cheney defended her vote to impeach. "I won't apologize for the vote," she told the House Republican conference, a source with knowledge of the process told CNN.
Cheney told CNN on Wednesday evening that she does not regret her impeachment vote. "Absolutely not," she said when asked. The Wyoming Republican was one of a handful of House Republicans to cross party lines and vote to impeach Trump for inciting the riot at the US Capitol that left five people dead.
Cheney delivered an eight-minute speech near the beginning of the meeting, two people in the room said, offering what was described as a calm yet firm defense of the Constitution.
She also told members that she wanted a vote to be called on her leadership status, which was interpreted by some in the room as an act of confidence in her standing with a broader cross-section of Republicans, the majority of which did not air their grievances toward her.
Cheney also fielded several contentious questions and comments from Trump loyalists, a person in the room said, including Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who bluntly said she "aided and comforted the enemy." Rep. Darrell Issa of California asked Cheney if they kept her in leadership, whether she would do it again. Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana engaged in a fiery exchange with her, a person in the room said, speaking loudly and angrily at Cheney.
But the anger was not all aimed at Cheney. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who had also voted in favor of impeachment, voiced criticism of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, during the meeting.
Cheney issued a scathing statement ahead of the House impeachment vote condemning Trump's conduct, saying that he "summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack," and "there has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution."
Some prominent Republicans have defended Cheney, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but her vote has triggered a divisive intra-party battle and ahead of the meeting, there are other Republicans who want Cheney to express remorse for her comments over her impeachment vote.
House Republicans are at a major crossroads as tensions simmer over Cheney and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and the conference faces pressure to chart a path forward in the aftermath of the Trump presidency.
Shortly before the meeting began, McCarthy released a statement, in which he condemned Greene's comments, but did not include any new repercussions for Greene and spent more time criticizing Democrats than the Georgia congresswoman's past comments that have created the backlash.
Ahead of the meeting, Cheney had been moving behind the scenes to shore up support -- and her defenders had been confident she would have the backing to fend off any challenge to her leadership post.
Rep. Jim Banks, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, told CNN that Cheney had spoken to virtually all House Republicans ahead of the meeting.
"Well she's making a lot of efforts to talk to, I mean she's reached out to almost every member of the Republican conference," Banks said.
"The House should do what the House chooses to do," freshman Sen. Cynthia Lummis told reporters, refusing to offer any support to fellow Wyoming Republican Cheney.
John Barrasso, the other Wyoming GOP senator, backs Cheney.
Rep. Tom Reed of New York said ahead of the meeting he had spoken with Cheney and noted that he's willing to defend her during the conference meeting.
"So I told her that I will be a voice to say, 'Hey, guys, you know we don't purge our fellow members. That is not something we do. We are, as Republicans, we are a family, we air our differences, we settle it in the conference chamber just like I do with my loving older brothers and sisters, and we come out of it united,'" he said.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Wednesday.