May 12, 2021
As expected, this morning the House Republicans removed Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney from her position as conference chair after she refused to stop speaking out against the former president for instigating the January 6 attack on our Capitol and the counting of electoral votes for President Joe Biden. The Republicans ousted her by voice vote, which meant that no one had to go on the record for or against Cheney, and the Republicans kept the split in the party from being measurable. It also ensured that she would lose; she has survived a secret ballot vote before.
Before the vote, Cheney allegedly told her Republican colleagues: “If you want leaders who will enable and spread his destructive lies, I’m not your person; you have plenty of others to choose from.” After the vote, she went in front of the cameras to say that she would lead the fight to reclaim the party from Trump, and said: “I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again goes anywhere near the Oval Office.”
After her ouster, Trump Republican Representative Madison Cawthorn (NC) tweeted ““Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye Liz Cheney.” The former president echoed Cawthorn: “Liz Cheney is a bitter, horrible human being. I watched her yesterday and realized how bad she is for the Republican Party. She has no personality or anything good having to do with politics or our Country.”
After convincing his caucus to dump Cheney and embrace Trump, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told reporters: “I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. I think that is all over with.”
This was a breathtaking statement. McCarthy himself challenged the certification of Biden’s win, and just last week, Trump made a big announcement in which he called the election of 2020 “fraudulent.” The Big Lie animating the Republicans today is that Trump, not Biden, really won the 2020 election.
But McCarthy is not alone in his gaslighting. Yesterday, in the Senate Rules Committee markup of S1, the For the People Act protecting the vote, ending gerrymandering, and pushing big money out of our elections, Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said: “I don’t think anyone on our side has been arguing that [voter fraud] has been pervasive all over the country.”
The false claim of widespread voter fraud is, of course, exactly what Trump Republicans have stood on since the 2020 election. It is the justification for their voter suppression measures in Republican states, including Texas, Iowa, Georgia, Florida, and, as of yesterday afternoon, Arizona.
In today’s House Oversight Committee hearing on the January 6 insurrection, Republican lawmakers in general tried to gaslight Americans, as they tried to paint that unprecedented attack on our democracy as nothing terribly important. Although 140 law enforcement officers were injured, five people were killed, more than 400 people have been charged with crimes, and rioters did more than $30 million worth of damage, Republican representatives downplayed the events of the day, insisting that they were not really out of the ordinary. Representative Andrew Clyde (R-GA) said that calling the attack on the Capitol an insurrection is a “bald-faced lie” and that “if you didn't know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit…."
CNN later called Clyde’s remarks “absolute nonsense.” Even the definition of insurrection Clyde quoted—“an organized attempt by a group of people to defeat their government and take control of their country usually by violence”—showed the attack of January 6 to be an insurrection. And, as lawyer and CNN analyst Asha Rangappa noted tonight on Twitter, at his second impeachment trial even Trump’s own lawyers did not dispute that the events of January 6 were a violent insurrection. The record is clear.
Republican lawmakers like Clyde did, though, echo the former president’s interview on the Fox News Channel in March when he said that when his supporters went into the Capitol they posed “zero threat” and were “hugging and kissing the police and the guards…. A lot of the people were waved in, and then they walked in and they walked out.”
The former president appears to be continuing to exercise control over his underlings. Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and former Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller provided testimony at the House Oversight Committee hearing, and what they would not say was revealing. Rosen refused to answer questions about whether Trump asked him to try to overturn the 2020 election. Miller’s prepared remarks had included a sentence that said “I stand by my prior observation that I personally believe his comments encouraged the protesters that day.” In his testimony, he omitted that line, and later tried to walk it back, trying to draw a line between people who marched on the Capitol and those who broke into it.
But with Cheney and her supporters now in open revolt, and with news about the Capitol attack dropping, and even with more information coming about the ties between the former president and Russia, will Republican Party leaders manage to sweep everything under the rug?
Today, at a hearing on domestic extremism today before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas both testified that the most serious domestic national security threat in the U.S. right now is that of white supremacist gangs. “I think it's fair to say that in my career as a judge, and in law enforcement, I have not seen a more dangerous threat to democracy than the invasion of the Capitol,” Garland said. “There was an attempt to interfere with the fundamental passing of an element of our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power. And if there has to be a hierarchy of things that we prioritize, this would be the one we'd prioritize. It is the most dangerous threat to our democracy. That does not mean that we don't focus on other threats.”
For his part, President Biden is refusing to get sucked into the Republican drama, instead focusing on the country. Today an advisory panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the Pfizer vaccine for children as young as 12, and the CDC signed off on the recommendation, making it easier to reopen schools in the fall.
Today Biden met at the White House with Republicans McCarthy and McConnell, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), to try to hash out an infrastructure plan, although the Republicans have said they will absolutely not consider raising the corporate tax rates from where Trump’s 2017 tax cut dropped them. It was the first time McCarthy and McConnell had visited the West Wing since Biden was elected.
It was in the context of visiting the president that McCarthy tried to say that there was no Republican questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election (although, of course, more than two thirds of Republicans currently believe in the Big Lie). “We’re sitting here with the president today,” he told reporters.
Will today’s gesture be enough to make swing voters forget the party’s wholehearted embrace of the former president? Shortly after House Republicans removed Cheney from her leadership position, nine out of 14 voters in an Axios focus group said they would be willing to vote for a Republican in next year’s congressional races. But of those, 8 said they would not back any Republican who supports Trump’s lie that he won the 2020 election.