WASHINGTON — Three months ago, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy helped quell a small protest against Rep. Liz Cheney, one of the Republican Party’s most vocal critics of former President Donald Trump, declaring the GOP a “big tent” that was broad enough to include dissenting voices.
But that tent deflated Wednesday morning, when House Republicans led by McCarthy, R-Calif., voted to remove the Wyoming lawmaker as the No. 3 Republican leader in the House.
Shortly after Cheney opened the meeting of the House Republican conference with a prayer, a motion was introduced to remove her from the job. The motion was approved by a voice vote so quickly that some Republicans missed it because they were running late.
There were voices in support of her, but reading the room, those supporters realized it wasn’t worth demanding a vote by secret ballot, said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who supported Cheney.
“Even the people who voted ‘no’ felt it was unnecessary,” Buck added. “It wasn’t going to change the outcome.”
Cheney, for her part, was prepared for the outcome Wednesday morning, defiantly standing by her message criticizing Trump’s falsehoods about election fraud and his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office,” she said after the meeting.
Cheney’s removal makes it clear that House Republicans view their future as tied to Trump. But it doesn’t put to rest the ongoing tension in the larger Republican Party between a future tethered to the former president and one that moves the GOP forward as the opposition party under the Biden administration.
After months of trying to coexist with Cheney as leader of a party largely aligned with Trump, McCarthy is now the one who has helped build the case for her removal.
“We represent Americans of all backgrounds and continue to grow our movement by the day. And unlike the left, we embrace free thought and debate,” McCarthy wrote in a letter to House Republicans on Monday. “But our leadership team cannot afford to be distracted from the important work we were elected to do and the shared goals we hope to achieve. The stakes are too high to come up short.”