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Events are forcing a likely end to House leadership for the Trump-hostile scion of a Republican dynasty.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) speaks during a House Republican Leadership news conference in the U.S. Capitol on February 24, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Al Drago/Getty Images)
Sweeping things under the rug has become something of a forte for Kevin McCarthy.
Six years ago, the Bakersfield, California Congressman was a vote away from the speakership, when John Boehner, now a cannabis lobbyist and wry memoirist, was forced from power. McCarthy was poised to wield the gavel when innuendo (never proved) that he had carried on an affair with a fellow member likely did in his bid. He stayed on as party leader and has held on for grim death ever since.
McCarthy watched as Donald Trump, someone he was recorded as saying that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin paid, “I swear to God,” seized the presidency. He watched as Paul Ryan’s speakership floundered as surely as had his vice presidential bid years prior, flattened by an underwhelming Obamacare alternative. With Ryan out of the picture, he became the last of “the young guns” in power.
Never as ideological as the now-Fox News board member or Eric Cantor, the defrocked former majority leader, McCarthy became buddies with President Trump.
He was even briefly considered for White House chief of staff. McCarthy took command of his caucus when the GOP ceded the House to Nancy Pelosi. And McCarthy set what has become his party’s course in the wake of the Jan. 6 riots: rejection of the violence, acknowledgement of Trump’s irresponsibility in their run-up, but in tandem, a rejection of the second impeachment attempt as as well the efforts by some Democrats to turn the security state on the American people.
And, for this, he would draw the disapproval of Liz Cheney, the Wyoming representative, Republican scion and neoconservative last hope. For McCarthy, this failure of messaging did not stop at the impeachment vote, of which she was in the pronounced minority of her party, its members (if polling is to be believed) or its leaders. Cheney, the chair of the House Republican Conference and arguably highest-ranking Republican woman left in Washington, continued to draw contrasts with the pragmatic, if panned McCarthy regime.
“Yes, he should,” McCarthy told reporters in Washington, on whether an exiled Trump should address the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). As McCarthy visibly winced, Cheney, standing behind him, responded: “That’s up to CPAC. I’ve been clear about my views about President Trump and the extent to which, following January 6, I don’t believe he should be playing a role in the future of the party, or the country.” Attempting humor, McCarthy exited: “On that high note, thank you all very much.”
But now it appears it is Cheney’s turn to exit. Because, on Tuesday, McCarthy confessed he has little room left to sweep the rift into hiding. As first reported by Axios, McCarthy was heard on a hot mic confiding in Fox’s Steve Doocy: “I think she’s got real problems,… I’ve had it with … I’ve had it with her. You know, I’ve lost confidence.” McCarthy predicted: “Well, someone just has to bring a motion, but I assume that will probably take place.” McCarthy’s position was already precarious on Tuesday as he attracted the condemnation of marquee Republican and Fox host Tucker Carlson, on a separate matter.
On the Axios disclosure, one House source concluded: “She’s toast.”
Cheney, for her part, remains defiant. “This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on Jan. 6,” Cheney spokesperson Jeremy Adler said. “Liz will not do that.” But I’m told by my sources in the House to expect an ouster vote, if not Congresswoman Cheney’s resignation from leadership, by next week. A shadow campaign for her slot has already begun, in anticipation, as Republican insiders related to The American Conservative.
After the tape release, the clear front-runner to replace Cheney emerged as 36-year-old New York Rep. Elise Stefanik. Before this week, she had been said to be mulling a run for governor. The Empire Stater has been described as a “onetime Never Trump [favorite]” but she is one who, ultimately, declined to go down with the ship.
Whatever else her politics, Stefanik did not vote for the second impeachment of Trump. This drew the open condemnation of NeverTrump godfather William Kristol, for one. The pressures to replace Cheney with another woman are clear, to say nothing of the added perk of elevating a rival to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for the mantle of millennial New Yorker star.
Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina is ambitious, but he will likely opt to read the room. Stefanik’s isn’t the only woman’s name which has been bandied about. Others include two Midwesterners, Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana and Carol Miller of West Virginia. And though Cheney’s exit from the upper echelon would seem inevitable, Republican House coups have proved suddenly stillborn before. Ask bongman Boehner, who survived plenty before the ax fell. But that the most public vote of confidence Cheney received from a peer on Tuesday was from Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who in undiscerning fashion concluded in August 2015, “I think Jeb’s the guy,” can’t make Cheney rest easy.
All this is a problem, mostly notably, for Rep. Jim Banks. He is chair of the Republican Study Committee, which makes him currently “number four” in the leadership after Cheney. Banks, of Indiana, had openly coveted the job, a plainly superior platform to mount a potential bid for the speakership, should Republicans reclaim the lower chamber next year, and should McCarthy again prove weak at sealing the deal. He’s strengthened relationships with senior Republicans in recent months, most notably former Secretary of State and aspirant president Mike Pompeo. Under the former’s tutelage, he introduced a sweeping new sanctions billon Iran. But Banks has got a problem and her name is “Elise.” By Tuesday night, he had said didn’t even want it.