The regular conference meetings of the Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives, held most weeks behind closed doors in the Capitol Visitor Center, tend to be predictable and thus irregularly attended affairs. The party leaders — the House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, the minority whip Steve Scalise and the conference chairwoman Liz Cheney, whose job it is to run these meetings — typically begin with a few housekeeping matters and then proceed with a discussion of the party’s message or issue du jour. The conference’s more voluble members line up at the microphone to opine for one to two minutes at a time; the rare newsworthy comment is often leaked and memorialized on Twitter seconds after it is uttered. An hour or so later, the members file out into the corridors of the Capitol and back to their offices, a few of them lingering to talk to reporters.
The conference meeting on the afternoon of Feb. 3 was different in nearly every way. It lasted four hours and nearly all of the G.O.P.’s 210 House members attended. Its stated purpose was to decide whether to remove Cheney from her leadership position.
Three weeks earlier, Cheney announced that she would vote to impeach President Donald Trump over his encouragement of his supporters’ storming the Capitol on Jan. 6 — one of only 10 House Republicans to do so and the only member of the party’s leadership. Because her colleagues had elected Cheney to the party’s third-highest position in the House, her words were generally seen as expressing the will of the conference, and those words had been extremely clear: “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” she said.
The combination of her stature and her unequivocal stand amounted to a clear message from Cheney to House Republicans: If they sided with Trump in challenging the election, they were siding against the Constitution, and against at least one of their elected leaders. The tenor of the Feb. 3 meeting was therefore tense, portentous and deeply personal from beginning to end, according to several attendees who later described it to me.
When it was Cheney’s turn to speak, the 54-year-old Wyoming congresswoman began by describing her lifelong reverence for the House, where her father, Dick Cheney, was minority whip more than 30 years ago before serving as George H.W. Bush’s secretary of defense and George W. Bush’s vice president. But, Cheney went on, she was “deeply, deeply concerned about where our party is headed.” Its core principles — limited government, low taxes, a strong national defense — were being overshadowed by darker forces. “We cannot become the party of QAnon,” she said. “We cannot become the party of Holocaust denial. We cannot become the party of white supremacy. We all watched in horror what happened on Jan. 6.”
Cheney, alone among House Republicans, had been mentioned by Trump in his speech that day. “The Liz Cheneys of the world, we got to get rid of them,” he told his supporters at the Ellipse shortly before they overran the Capitol. [Continue reading…]